As the countdown to the start of the 2018 NFL season heats up, we at Pro Football Focus will begin to unveil our position by position rankings for each unit across the board. While those will take a look at the top units and players at each specific positional group for the upcoming season, we wanted to take that a bit further and showcase potential storylines that may develop this upcoming season.
Coinciding with our positional rankings for the wide receiver units, one of those storylines will be the success of different receivers on each route across the route tree. While this study looks at the information we have at hand from a year ago, we take a look at whether these receivers are all capable of finding such successes during the 2018 season and beyond.
[Editor's note: Routes in this study are bucketed onto the common PFF route tree featured below, for comparison, attached with their NFL average passer rating when targeting each specific route. For more information on our route trees and signature statistics like WR Rating – passer rating when targeted – check out our Signature Stats Glossary.]
Over the course of the next month, we'll take a look at the top five receivers from the 2017 season on each individual route, by their passer rating when targeted – their WR Rating – on each specific branch of the route tree.
Without further adieu, the top five receivers on passes targeted at or behind the line of scrimmage from 2017:
1. Albert Wilson, Miami Dolphins (formerly w/ Kansas City) – 133.3 WR Rating
Last season, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith had a career year in terms of throwing 20-plus yards downfield, but when he wasn’t dialling it deep, 31.9 percent of Smith’s pass attempts were aimed either at or behind the line of scrimmage, the league’s second-highest rate. One of the main beneficiaries of those passes was fourth-year wideout Albert Wilson, who was the league’s most productive wideout when it came to catching such passes.
All told, Wilson caught 17-of-20 targets behind the line of scrimmage, for 160 receiving yards and two touchdowns, resulting in a passer rating when targeted of 133.3 – the best mark in the league by a considerable margin. Wilson also racked up a staggering 8.0 yards per reception and 10.9 yards after the catch per reception which also paced the league.
2. Jarvis Landry, Cleveland Browns (formerly w/ Miami) – 107.4 WR Rating
The ex-Dolphin didn’t see many passes behind the line of scrimmage, just 30 of his 156 targets in fact, but that didn’t stop him from producing when he got the chance. Landry ended the 2017 season with 28 catches on those 30 targets for 133 receiving yards and two touchdowns, posting a WR rating of 107.4. Landry also racked up a catch rate of 93.3 percent, the fifth-best mark among wide receivers with at least 20 targets behind the line of scrimmage.
A lot can be said for Hill’s downfield production, but the truth is, any athlete with his speed and agility can be devastating with the ball in his hands, no matter where he is on the field. Hill caught 19-of-20 targets for 125 yards when targeted behind the line of scrimmage, posting a WR rating of 92.7 and recording a catch rate of 95.0 percent, which ranked second among receivers with at least 20 targets. Hill also racked up an average of 9.0 yards after the catch per reception on those targets, the second-best mark among wideouts and he was also one of just two receivers to see at least 20 targets without dropping a single pass.
The fourth-year slot weapon was extremely reliable for his team when he was targeted behind the line of scrimmage, which was on exactly 26.8 percent of his targets last year. Humphries ended the season with 20 receptions on 22 targets for 123 receiving yard and 154 yards after the catch. All told, he produced a WR rating of 90.0 and averaged of 7.7 yards after the catch per reception, both of which ranked fourth among all receivers seeing at least 20 passes behind the line of scrimmage.
As you’d expect, the perennially reliable pass-catcher was incredibly productive when he was targeted behind the line of scrimmage, as he was also one of the league's elite forces with the ball in his hands. Throughout the 2017 season, Tate racked up 33 catches from 35 targets, including one touchdown, and he would be two spots higher on this list if one of his targets had not been intercepted. All told, Tate’s 198 receiving yards and 261 yards after the catch both led the league’s wide receivers.