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Wide Receiver Stat Check: Catch Rates

megatron-calvin-johnsonThere is a simple hypothesis many of us fantasy footballers share: the higher a wide receiver's catch rate, the more efficient he is at scoring fantasy points. But digging through seven year's worth of wide receiver data, we've found this hypothesis to be only partly true.

There is indeed a relationship between a wideout's catch rate and his fantasy points scored per target (PPT), but it's not as strong as one might imagine.

In fact, the linear r-squared of this relationship is only 0.33, meaning looking solely at a wide receiver's catch rate as it relates to his fantasy production does not tell us much of the story. (The closer to 1 the r-squared is, the better the relationship.)

Below is a scatter chart showing the relationship between a receiver’s catch rate and his points per target. Each dot represents an individual receiver’s season. All qualifying receivers from the 2008-2014 seasons were included in this research, giving us 754 data points.

As you can see, there is a general upward trend of PPT as catch rate increases, but there appear to be just as many dots above the linear line as there are below the line. If the relationship were perfect, all of the blue dots would fall on the black line running through the chart.

The weakness of this relationship is made even more evident when looking at a subset of this data: Wide receivers with a catch rate between 55 percent and 69 percent. This subset includes 453 data points, or 60 percent of our overall sample size. This allows us to eliminate the receivers with higher- and lower-than-average catch rates.

The r-squared of this subset is 0.11. The chart below was also turned into a line graph to truly show the up-and-down nature of the relationship between a receiver’s catch rate and his PPT.

Again, there is a general upward trend, but it is clearly a much weaker relationship that common sense would tell us.

This is the first part of an offseason series — the Wide Receiver Stat Check — that will explore what fantasy players should look for in a wide receiver, from a statistical standpoint. This first study proves that there is a weak connection between a receiver’s catch rate and what you can expect from him in terms of fantasy production. It does not mean that catch rate should be ignored,  but it does tell us that as a standalone stat, catch rate doesn't mean much.

I will be the first to admit having fallen victim to this seems-to-be-obvious relationship. Forthcoming studies will look at other key wide receiver statistics to see what, if any, weight we should put behind them when evaluating fantasy value.

The end goal is to find the correct balance of measurable statistics (such as catch rate) to look for in a wide receiver, which can then be applied to individuals to find players with the most breakout potential.

To qualify for this study, a receiver must have taken at least 25% the amount of snaps as the leading receiver did for that respective season. For example, is Leading Receiver took 100 snaps during the 2010 season, and Example Receiver took 24 snaps, Example Receiver did not qualify for the study.

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