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Chris Chambers = Eddie George?

Posted by Doug on May 21, 2007

Target stats --- that is, the number of times a particular receiver was the intended target of a pass --- are now widely available. But I've never been quite sure what to do with them. If two receivers have the same number of catches, but one of them was targeted much more often, which one is likely to have more catches in the future?

Occam would probably assume that the player with the lower number of targets --- and thus the higher catch percentage --- is probably the better player. After all, isn't that what receivers are supposed to do? Catch the balls that are thrown to them.

On the other hand, the player with more targets is in some sense a bigger part of the offense. Either he's open more often, or the quarterback is throwing in his direction even when he's not open. At least if he's staying in the same situation the following year, maybe some of those looks will turn into catches.

I have always suspected that neither of those explanations is in general correct, that while target numbers are probably relevant in certain cases, they aren't worth anything unless you have more information about the particular situation. But I'd never really studied it before.

So I took all pairs of consecutive wide receiver seasons since 2002/2003 in which the player played at least eight games in each season and had at least 30 receptions in the first season (there were 264 such). Then I ran a regression of Year N+1 receptions per game against Year N receptions per game and Year N targets per game. Here is the resulting equation:

Year N+1 rec =~ .64 + .63*(Year N rec) + .07*(Year N targets)

The coefficient on Year N targets is positive, but it's small, and not significantly different from zero in the "official" statistical sense. In other words, given the variation in the data, there is no real reason to assume the true coefficient on Year N targets isn't zero.

And again, it doesn't much matter whether it's statistically significant or not. It's too small to be very meaningful anyway. Last year, Chris Chambers had 3.7 catches per game on 9.7 targets per game. That's a ton of targets for someone with so few catches. Our formula predicts him to have about 3.6 catches per game next season. If he had had the same number of receptions, but a more typical amount of targets, say 6 per game, last season, then the formula would project him with 3.4 catches per game next year. That's a difference of only 3 catches over a 16-game season.

For what it's worth, I also included various age controls in the regression and it doesn't alter the conclusions.

Chambers' low catch percentage last season was not an aberration, which leads me to the title of the post. Is Chambers' consistently low catch percentage, like Eddie George's consistently low yards-per-rush average, a sign that he's not as good as he appears and that he's only compiling raw numbers because he has been given a ton of opportunities? Or is the fact that he has consistently been given a ton of opportunities despite the seemingly poor production a sign that he must be pretty good, because no competent coach would make him such a major focus unless he had some real talent.

I don't know how much this has to do with Chambers, but young running backs who get a ton of carries but have a low yards-per-rush average often turn into Hall of Famers. Here are the backs who had the most carries in their first three years despite a sub-4.0 average per carry:

Eddie George
Curtis Martin
Willis McGahee
Karim Abdul-Jabbar
Ricky Williams
Marshall Faulk
Jerome Bettis

Now there have been a lot of other young runners who failed to eclipse 4.0 yards per carry over their first three years. For example, Reggie Cobb, Antowain Smith, Johnny Johnson, and Leonard Russell. But those guys didn't get as many carries as Curtis Martin and Marshall Faulk did. I think that might say something. A low yards-per-rush is bad. But a ton of opportunities over a reasonably long period of time despite a low yards-per-rush might just be a signal.

In the same way, Chris Chambers' ability to remain a huge part of the offense through two entire coaching regimes (including several offensive coordinator switches) and numerous different quarterbacks, despite what appears on the surface to be sub par performance, might be a sign that he's better than we think he is.

This entry was posted on Monday, May 21st, 2007 at 4:55 am and is filed under Fantasy. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.