YAC attack: the best receivers after the catch

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jun 29, 2011



By Erik Frenz
Cold, Hard Football Facts YAC master
 
The average Joe football fan wants a field stretcher, a guy who can take the top off a defense and force them to respect the deep ball. The hardcore football fan knows, however, it's the guys underneath that do a sizable bulk of the work and get far less recognition for it. Ironically, the idea that they get no recognition has become so far-reaching that it has earned them more recognition.

Our friends at SportsIllustrated.com offer one of the only websites that makes yards after catch statistical data available. A lot can be gleaned from the yards after catch stat. These might not be the guys that get the most recognition, but they're some of the most physically gifted and most football-intelligent receivers in the league. Not only can these guys find the soft spot in coverage, they can make you pay for it.
 
Top 25 NFL Receivers, Total Yards After Catch
Receivers Team Receptions YAC Total yards receiving % of total rec. yards after catch
Santana Moss WAS 93 505 1115 45.29
Percy Harvin MIN 71 459 868 52.88
Miles Austin DAL 69 439 1041 42.17
Reggie Wayne IND 111 438 1355 32.32
Greg Jennings GB 76 436 1265 32.47
Wes Welker NE 86 433 848 51.06
Stevie Johnson BUF 82 419 1073 39.05
Eddie Royal DEN 59 409 627 65.23
Dwayne Bowe KC 72 400 1162 34.42
Danny Amendola STL 85 390 689 56.60
Roddy White ATL 115 381 1389 28.89
Mike Wallace PIT 60 376 1267 35.61
DeSean Jackson PHI 47 364 1056 34.47
Calvin Johnson DET 77 354 1120 31.61
Mario Manningham NYG 60 347 944 36.76
Andre Johnson HOU 86 346 1216 28.45
Mike Williams TB 65 343 964 35.58
Davone Bess MIA 79 330 820 40.24
Nate Burleson DET 55 318 625 50.88
Michael Crabtree SF 55 317 741 42.78
Austin Collie IND 58 314 649 48.38
Mike Thomas JAC 66 312 820 38.05
Hakeem Nicks NYG 79 308 1052 29.28
James Jones GB 50 304 679 44.77
Josh Morgan SF 44 301 698 43.12
 
Introducing Average YAC
Of course, here at CHFF we are all about efficiency over quantity. So while the raw stat of total YAC is interesting, it isn't terribly indicative of a receiver's talent after the catch. For example, Receiver A with 100 receptions is almost certainly going to rack up more YAC than Receiver B with 50 receptions. But that higher YAC number does not mean Receiver A is better than Receiver B after the catch.
 
Reggie Wayne, for example, was No. 4 in YAC last year (438 yards). But he averaged only 3.3 yards after the catch. As you'll see below, Wayne is not terribly effective after the catch.
 
We wanted to know which receivers are best with the ball in their hands. So, with the help of CHFF's sultant of spreadsheets Luis DeLoureiro, we created Average YAC (AYAC). We compiled data for the receivers who produced the highest average after each catch. The list of AYAC leaders looks a lot different than total YAC leaders.
 
Top 25 Wide Receivers, Average Yards After Catch (min. 40 receptions)
Receivers
Team
Receptions
YAC
AYAC
Total yards receiving
% of total rec. yards after catch
DeSean Jackson
PHI
47
364
7.74
1056
34.47
Eddie Royal
DEN
59
409
6.93
627
65.23
Josh Morgan
SF
44
301
6.84
698
43.12
Percy Harvin
MIN
71
459
6.46
868
52.88
Miles Austin
DAL
69
439
6.36
1041
42.17
Mike Wallace
PIT
60
376
6.27
1257
29.9
James Jones
GB
50
304
6.08
679
44.77
Jordy Nelson
GB
45
265
5.89
582
45.53
Mario Manningham
NYG
60
347
5.78
944
36.76
Nate Burleson
DET
55
318
5.78
625
50.88
Michael Crabtree
SF
55
317
5.76
741
42.78
Devin Hester
CHI
40
230
5.75
475
48.42
Greg Jennings
GB
76
436
5.74
1265
34.47
Braylon Edwards
NYJ
53
300
5.66
904
33.18
Louis Murphy
OAK
41
231
5.63
609
37.93
Dwayne Bowe
KC
72
400
5.56
1162
34.42
Santana Moss
WAS
93
505
5.43
1115
45.29
Austin Collie
IND
58
314
5.41
631
48.38
Mike Williams
TB
65
343
5.28
964
35.58
Brian Hartline
MIA
43
225
5.23
615
36.59
Stevie Johnson
BUF
82
419
5.11
1073
39.05
Chansi Stuckey
CLE
40
204
5.10
346
58.95
Wes Welker
NE
86
433
5.03
848
51.06
Johnny Knox
CHI
51
246
4.82
960
25.62
Deion Branch
NE
61
290
4.75
818
35.4
 
AYAC Champion DeSean Jackson
The reigning champion of AYAC is DeSean Jackson, of the Big Play Eagles. We knew Jackson was an explosive receiver, but this list just adds another level to just how much more explosive he is than the rest.
 
He really ran away from the competition last year (Get it? Ran away? Oh football puns...) and averaged almost a full yard after the catch more than the runner-up, Eddie Royal. Jackson's statistical greatness is diminished slightly by the fact that he had a 91-yard touchdown play against the Dallas Cowboys, with 81 of those yards coming after the catch on a quick out.
 
Even without that play, he'd still be in the top five, but the fact that he made that play on a hurt ankle is just a testament to the speed he possesses. Michael Vick should think twice about allowing Jason Avant to have more receptions (51) than Jackson (47).
Eddie Royal is another guy who appears underutilized. He's second only to Jackson in AYAC (6.93) and needs getting the ball more than 59 times when he's playing that well.

Besides Jackson's and Royal's obvious speed, they're incredibly elusive, as well. Those are the same traits that help  them break long punt returns for big yardage and even touchdowns. Three of the top 25 punt returners in yards per return were on this list – Jackson, Royal and Devin Hester – and most of the others on this list weren't even returning punts.
 
It would be interesting to see how the data might correlate between the two, but it's worth mentioning that all three are considered the best at what they do, whether it be YAC, returning kicks or just straight up speed and elusion.
 
Slot Men and System Receivers
It appears from the lists that the guys with the highest percentage of their yards coming after the catch are the slot receivers. St. Louis's Danny Amendola played almost exclusively in the slot, and reaped the benefits of his quickness and sure hands in the middle. He earned over 56 percent of his total receiving yards after he had already made the catch. That's a testament not just to his talents, but also how he's used and where he lines up.
 
Some receivers, meanwhile, are at an advantage by the system they play in.
 
Of course, this wouldn't be a YAC article unless we made some mention of Wes Welker. He has been a YAC monster since joining the Patriots in 2007. He thrived for two years in Josh McDaniels' system, with a total of 1,398 yards after the catch during the McDaniels 2007-08 era for over 6.2 AYAC. Just under 60 percent of his total receiving yards came after the catch in that span.
 
His success shouldn't be attributed entirely to the system, as he continued to post gaudy numbers in all YAC categories in 2009, after McDaniels went to Denver. But those numbers dipped in 2010. This decline in YAC production can be attributed to both the departure of Randy Moss (and defenses subsequently focusing on shutting down Welker) as well as recovery from ACL surgery. It'll be interesting to see how (and if) he bounces back.

Still, that niche in the McDaniels offense has spilled over into Royal's career. He has posted some of the gaudiest numbers on this list with 6.93 AYAC in 2010, and over 65 percent of his receiving yards coming after the catch. We'll have to see if that success continues under new head coach John Fox.
 
Luckily for Royal, the offensive system may not change a whole lot with Mike McCoy, but his numbers were consistently underwhelming in terms of YAC before 2010, averaging just 3.4 YAC per reception. He did pretty well in other areas before last year, suggesting he's adaptable depending on the scheme. His season will also be fun to watch, especially considering the growing quarterback controversy in Denver.
 
Pittsburgh's explosive passing attack
Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace (No. 6 in AYAC) may be a surprising name on this list, only because most football enthusiasts think of him as a speed demon and a deep threat who does his damage before catching the pass. Apparently, those burners are good for earning yards after the catch, too.
 
It's all part of Pittsburgh's deceptively explosive offense under Ben Roethlisberger. He doesn't pass the pall as often as other quarterback. But Cold, Hard Football Facts readers know that Big Ben is the most explosive passer of the last half century when you look at average per pass attempt (8.04 YPA).
 
One problem with these stats is that they don't tell you how the YAC was earned. Did Wallace break free in traffic, or were most of his YAC a result of being wide open on a deep ball? Regardless, 60 receptions for Wallace just isn't enough. The Steelers must find a way to get the ball into Wallace's hands more, and with opportunities to make plays, too. At 6.27 AYAC, he has proven he's dangerous with the ball in his hands. Wallace could potentially be an even better outlet option than Santonio Holmes ever was.
 
Green Bay's Big Three Yac Attack
Greg Jennings' presence on the AYAC list (No. 13) shouldn't come as a surprise. But the fact that he's third among Packers receivers is a huge surprise. James Jones (No. 7) and Jordy Nelson (No. 8) are underrated after the catch, to say the least.
 
Not to take anything away from the emergence of Aaron Rodgers, but it's worth noting that three of his receivers landed on this list. While it may have a little to do with the offensive system in Green Bay, it must be nice for Rodgers to know that if his receiver catches the ball, they can usually get quite a few additional yards out of it.
 
Another star in Dallas
Miles Austin burst onto the scene in 2009 after three anonymous seasons in Dallas. He has quietly emerged as a top AYAC receiver, too: No. 5 in the NFL last year with 6.36 AYAC. He hardly gets any due as a talented guy after the catch, despite ranking among the top five receivers in YAC both in 2009 (555 YAC) and 2010 (439). 
 
Now that's he fully entrenched in Jason Garrett's system, with the former offensive coordinator now the head coach of the star-studded franchise, perhaps Austin might step it up another notch in 2011.

Overall, Average Yards After Catch serves as proof that the most effective receivers in the NFL aren't always the field stretchers, but are also the guys who eat up yardage when the ball's in their hands.

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