In an ongoing effort to find better ways to understand the usage of each player, I recently started analyzing Average Depth of Target (aDOT). Tracked by our game analysts at Pro Football Focus, ‘depth of target’ refers to the average distance the player is down field on each target. Basically a better version of the popular and mainstream Yards-Per-Reception statistic, aDOT removes volatile YAC (yards-after-catch) from the equation. It's a new, better method of tracking the way NFL pass-catchers are utilized.
Because we're analyzing targets and not receptions, our sample size nearly doubles in size, which is key in developing predictable statistics. In fact, a recent study showed that a normalized version of aDOT could be predicted on a year-to-year basis with 95-percent accuracy. That is opposed to 41-percent for Yards-Per-Reception and 27-percent for Yards-Per-Target. The fact is: aDOT is predictable, while YPR is not.
Today, I’m going to take a look at wide receivers with notably high and notably low average depth of targets during the 2011 season. Only wideouts who saw 30-plus targets during the 2011 season (including playoffs) are included.
Ravens WR Torrey Smith
2011 aDOT: 19.7 (Rank: 1)
Preseason WR Fantasy Ranking: 30
Working in a passing game that features an aging possession receiver, Anquan Boldin, and a pair of tight ends, Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson, it’s no surprise that Smith was heavily-utilized as a down-field threat. He saw 41 percent of his 99 targets 20-plus yards down field. That compares to an NFL wide receiver average of 19 percent. Five of his eight touchdowns came on 20-plus yard throws. The Baltimore passing attack won’t be much different in 2012, so expect to see more of the same.
Raiders WR Denarius Moore
2011 aDOT: 18.9 (Rank: 2)
Preseason WR Fantasy Ranking: 32
Boosted by the high-risk, chuck-it-deep mentality Carson Palmer initially brought to the table last season, Moore saw 40 percent of his targets 20-plus yards down field. Four of his five touchdowns came on these deep throws. Palmer calmed down as the year progressed, but Moore was still featured as a deep threat. His aDOT will take a little bit of a dive with Jacoby Ford back from injury and Darrius Heyward-Bey (Rank: 18) also able to do damage down field. Ford worked from the slot on 40 percent of his snaps last season and saw his aDOT dive to 9.2. He figures to be the team’s primary underneath threat, but has to speed to add a few big plays.
Chargers WR Vincent Jackson
2011 aDOT: 18.6 (Rank: 3)
Preseason WR Fantasy Ranking: 25
Jackson’s situation is a bit unique since he’s moved on to Tampa Bay, but we can still take a look at his tendencies. A hefty 35 percent of his targets came 20-plus yards down field last season. Since 2008, 14 of Jackson’s 29 touchdowns have come on 20-plus yard throws. Another 11 came in the 10-to-19 range. He’ll be the primary deep threat in Tampa. Mike Williams will handle a good chunk of the mid-range throws, while Preston Parker and Dallas Clark will do the underneath damage.
Seahawks WR Sidney Rice
2011 aDOT: 17.1 (Rank: 5)
Preseason WR Fantasy Ranking: 38
Rice is arguably the biggest injury risk on fantasy draftboards this season, but there is certainly plenty of big-play upside here. Rice saw 39 percent of his 56 targets 20-plus yards down field a season ago. He hauled in six of those throws for 223 yards and a touchdown. Assuming he can stay healthy, Rice will stick as the team’s primary deep threat. Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, and the tight ends will work in the short-to-mid range.
Chargers WR Malcom Floyd
2011 aDOT: 17.0 (Rank: 6)
Preseason WR Fantasy Ranking: 45
With the aforementioned Vincent Jackson off to Tampa Bay, Floyd joins newcomer Robert Meachem as potential deep threats for Philip Rivers. Only 21 percent of Floyd’s 68 targets came beyond 20 yards last season, but a whopping 63 percent (NFL WR average is 30 percent) came in the 10-to-19 range. He hauled in an impressive 8-of-14 20-plus yard targets last season, scoring on three of the receptions.
Vikings WR Percy Harvin
2011 aDOT: 5.9 (Rank: 99)
Preseason WR Fantasy Ranking: 9
Considering Harvin lined up in the backfield on 14 percent of his snaps and in the slot on another 51 percent, it’s hardly a surprise to see him here. Of his 118 targets, 65 percent were delivered within nine yards of the line of scrimmage. Impressively, Harvin hauled in 79 percent of those targets and scored five of his six touchdowns on short throws. Jerome Simpson will help as a deep threat, allowing Harvin to continue doing his damage underneath.
Buccaneers WR Preston Parker
2011 aDOT: 6.9 (Rank: 97)
Preseason WR Fantasy Ranking: N/A
In his first NFL season as a regular contributor, Parker worked out of the slot on over 90 percent of his snaps. The result was 79 percent of his targets coming within nine yards down field. He went without a reception on two targets 20-plus yards down field. The zero-to-nine yard range was where Parker shined. He caught 72 percent of his 46 targets, scored three touchdowns, and averaged an impressive 8.8 yards after the catch. With Vincent Jackson now in the picture, Parker can focus even more on underneath routes. He’ll enter camp pushing Mike Williams for a starting job opposite Jackson. An increase in looks would put him in the WR3 conversation in PPR formats.
Lions WR Nate Burleson
2011 aDOT: 7.0 (Rank: 96)
Preseason WR Fantasy Ranking: 72
Handling 73 percent of his targets within nine yards of the line of scrimmage (17 percent of which came behind the LOS), Burleson was a capable safety gap for Matthew Stafford during the 2011 season. Burleson caught a strong 78 percent of his targets in the zero-to-nine yard range, but two of his three scores came when beyond 10 yards down field. With Titus Young emerging across from Calvin Johnson, Burleson is left competing with rookie Ryan Broyles for primary slot duties. The odds favor him in the short-term, but the more-talented Broyles is likely to emerge at some point in the next six months.
Patriots WR Wes Welker
2011 aDOT: 7.6 (Rank: 95)
Preseason WR Fantasy Ranking: 15
Wes Welker’s average depth of target actually jumped up 1.9 yards from 2010-to-2011, but he still saw just over two-thirds of his targets in the zero-to-nine yard range. Interestingly, his catch, yards-per-reception, touchdown, and YAC rates were almost exactly identical in that zone both years. The big jump in his overall yards-per-reception (9.7 to 12.3) can be attributed to two items: (1) his 9.0 YAC/Reception mark in the 10-19 yard range, which was significantly inflated by a 99-yard touchdown and (2) a slight boost in 20-plus yard throws (from two percent to six percent). The 2012 Patriots figure to bring back the deep ball, but with Brandon Lloyd now in the picture, Welker can continue to focus on his short game.
Colts WR Austin Collie
2011 aDOT: 7.6 (Rank: 94)
Preseason WR Fantasy Ranking: 43
Only five of Austin Collie’s 92 targets came on 20-plus yard throws last season, as the Colts slot man focused primarily on the zero-to-nine yard range. Although he slid a bit in a down year for the offense a season ago, Collie had a dominant short game with Peyton Manning. Consider that he’s caught 100 percent (29-of-29) of balls thrown to him behind the line of scrimmage in his career. Additionally, during the 2010 season (his last with Manning), he caught 41-of-43 (95 percent) of balls thrown within nine yards of the line of scrimmage. The Indianapolis offense was completely overhauled this offseason, but Collie is still the primary slot/underneath target and Andrew Luck is an upgrade at quarterback.