Lately there has been a lot of debate on whether we need a receiver in the Draft or FA. And within that debate there has been a debate of what type of receiver we need. Do we need a Slot guy or a deep threat or both? Let's look and see what the data says...
Does Speed Matter for WR?
First let's look at whether speed matters. Of course, the answer is that it matters what you are looking for. I have shown this data in year's past, but I have updated it with 2022 WRs and I have been inspired by Skarekrow to show more than just averages.
All NFL WRs
Below is a look at the 40 time for All WRs. I know this looks complicated. There is a lot of info in this graph. But it basically shows the distribution of 40 times in each set of vertical bars. The different colors in each vertical bar are broken up in 25 percentile groupings. I also broke it up into Tiers based on team usage (targets/team pass attempt). With these tiers you can see if there is an impact. I annotated some comments in red to try and help explain the charts.
Based on this chart, it seems like 40 time means very little. The distribution of 40 times in the top tiers of WRs looks very similar to the ones in the lower tiers. However, let's loook a little deeper.
Intermediate Route WRs
Intermediate route WRs are receivers where their average depth of target (air yds) is between 10 and 12.5 yds.
This picture looks a little different than the picture in the 1st graph that has all WRs with all target distances. In the top 2 Tiers of Intermediate Route WRs speed does matter compared to the whole population of WRs
Deep Route WRs
Intermediate route WRs are receivers where their average depth of target (air yds) is greater than 12.5
As you would have guessed, this picture looks a lot different than the picture in the 1st graph that has all WRs with all target distances. I think it is easy to see the top 3 Tiers of Deep Route WRs speed absolutley does matter. The majority are 4.42 or faster and 25% are 4.36 or faster. Sure, there are some exceptions in every group, but they are clearly exceptions.
Short Route or Slot WR
Short Route or Slot WRs are receivers that have 50% or more of their snaps in the slot OR their average depth of target (air yds) is less than 10.0 yds.
This is the group where 40 time is almost meaningless. There is no discernible difference between any of the tiers for this group and it mirors the same broad distribution in All WRs in all target distances. When you think of it, it makes a lot of sense. In the slot, WRs are matched up against much slower CB3s, Safeties, and LBs. They do not have to be as fast as WRs with deeper routes or on the perimeter. In addition, they rarely run routes greater than 10 yds, so how fast they run a 40 yd dash means very little.
Positionless WRs are receivers that have between 30% and 70% of their snaps in the slot AND their average depth of target (air yds) is more than 10.0 yds.
Like with Intermediate and Deep Route WRs, speed also matters here too. Not only is the Median 40 time is 4.46, the average (mean) is 4.42 for the top 3 tiers. Because the average is lower than the Median, that means that the distribution within the top 50th percentile is skewed more heavily towards the Minimum (4.27) than it is towards the Median (4.46).
Is Speed the Only Thing?
Of Course not. The answer is never binary in a sport as complex and interdependent as football. Here are how some of the other traits correlate to the Tiers of Positionless WR.
NOTE: these traits are upside down from the 40 time. They are ratings and the higher the rating the better, so the Top Quartile is at the top of the vertical bars (in green)
Agility & Quickness
While the impact of the Agility & Quickness rating (a combination of 3-cone and shuttle) does not appear to be as significant as Speed, there is a decent impact. However, the impact seems to be limted to the fact that low Agility & Quickness WRs were not asked to do this role (as shown by the very high floor of the yellow boxes - 0th-25th percentile) compared to the overall ALL NFL WRs population. Also, Agility & Quickness did not show a huge difference bewteen the tiers.
Similar to Agility & Quickness, the impact of the Burst rating (a combination of broad jump and vertical jump) does not appear to be as significant as Speed, but there is a decent impact. And also similar to Agility & Quickness, it seems that low Burst WRs were not asked to do this role and there was not a huge difference bewteen the tiers.
Catch Height (a combo of vertical jump and height) did not appear to have an impact on this role/"position"
Power (a combination of BMI & strength) also did not have a huge impact on this role/"position".
So What Should The Bills Do?
As many of you know I have been pounding the table for a Positionless, Elite Deep Speed, Great Hands WR. That seems like a lot of things to have in one WR. It is, but as my charts show in the previous section, there are 31 top tier Positionless WRs in the league right now. It should be doable. That is enough for almost one on each NFL team. So, why do we need all of those things??
The Strategic Advantage of Speed
So, it was already shown (in the charts in the previous section) that speed helps the individual Positionless, Intermediate Route, and Deep Route WRs achieve individual success. But the impact of elite deep speed (sub 4.4) is beyond just their individual success. While speed is not the only traits that is needed for a great Positionless, Intermediate Route, and Deep Route WR, it is a big factor. There is nothing that scares defensive coordinators more than elite deep speed. McFrazier was famous for playing soft zone against top passing offenses. Why? Because if you have one of the slowest defensive backfields in the NFL then a matchup against a team with elite deep speed is not a favorable matchup and the defense needs to do things that they don't normally do to try and contain that speed. I recently did an analysis of the top 10 passing offenses and the Bills were only 1 of 2 teams that did not have a sub 4.4 receiver or RB. The 49ers were the other one, but they had Deebo Samuel, Barndin Aiyuk, Christian McCaffrey and George Kittle. And many of those teams had multiple elite deep speed receivers or RBs
- Kansas City Chiefs: 4
- Miami Dolphins: 3
- Detroit Lions: 2
- Seattle Seahawks: 3
Elite speed tilts the "numbers game" towards the offense.
The "Numbers Game"
When I say the "numbers game", I mean the balance of the number of playmakers (receivers and runners) against the number of defensive players committed to stopping playmakers. There are 11 players on defense. Typically, a defense will commit 4 players to rush the passer. That leaves 7 players to cover the 5 eligible receivers and runners (e.g. 1 RB, 1 TE, and 3 WRs in a typical 11-personnel grouping) + the QB. If the defense believes that it can cover each of the eligible receivers 1-on-1, then that leaves 2 extra defensive players that can be used to spy the QB, blitz the QB, ball hawk in the middle of the field, or commit extra bodies to stopping the run. In this case, the defense has the advantage.
However, if the offense has elite speed WRs and the defense believes that their CBs cannot cover them 1-on-1, then those "extra defenders" need to stay home and focus on the elite deep speed WR which means less ball hawking, less run support, and less focus on the QB. That tips the "numbers game" in favor of the offense. So, even if the elite speed WR is not the high volume target receiver for the offense, they still provide a lot of value. Again, speed is not everything. They have to be a good receiver in order for the defense to really be scared of the receiver.
This is the premise of KC's offense. Andy Reid has continually kept the cupboards full of elite deep speed playmakers. He has always had several of them on the field at any one time. As a result, there is always tons of room for easy underneath throws to Kelce and lots of room for Mahomes to scramble. Sure, Kelce is very good and he has great hands, but a large part of his success is due to the flood of playmakers around him. This is a very big component of the success of their offense. The speed makes everything that they do easier.
This is what I want the Bills to do with their offense. Once the numbers game is in favor of the offense, then the offense will become easier for Josh and he will not have to be heroic in order to just keep drives alive. Once the offense becomes easy, the offense will be more successful.
1-dimensional receivers or RBs have limited benefit. If a receiver is 1-dimensional (e.g. slot-only, outside only, deep threat only, short route only) then defenses can narrow down the routes that the receiver is likely to run and narrow down the involvement on certain types of plays. The more predictable a receiver is, the more confidently the defense can play that receiver. 1-dimensional = limited = beatable. Diggs and Davis are already fairly positionless. Both of them are really well-suited to play in the slot and in intermediate routes. They are both OK at deep routes, but neither of them are well-suited to excel at deep routes consistently. Gabe in particular really thrived in the slot and intermediate routes prior to 2022. In 2022, he was forced into the deep threat role. He is not a deep threat. He excels at keeping his route alive when Josh has the time to run around and buy time, but that is not a reliable role. Josh does not always have that time. If we add another positionless WR to the top 3 WRs, especially one with elite deep speed, then Diggs and Davis can move around to find the best matchups wherever they exist. If we add a slot-only WR to the WR corps, then when we move Diggs inside to get a favorable matchup, then the slot-only WR is basically someone that the defense does not need to worry about on the outside. A slot-only WR is a huge strategic disadvantage, especially when your high-volume WR (Diggs) has a skillset to really thrive inside.
Why Great Hands WR?
I know this may go down as a "Captain Obvious" (especially after the year that the Bills WRs and RBs had), but whenever I point out drop rates on BR thre are always comments that say something like... "a 5% increase in drop rate is not that much. It only equates to 1 drop every two games". While that is true, the impact of drops is bigger than just the numbers. Once a WR or RB has a high drop rate, then the QB and the OC have less faith in that receiver/RB compared to his peers. As a result, that player gets less targets. Once a player gets less and less targets, defenses pick up on that and they don't have to worry about that player as much and they clamp down on the other primary targets more. Also, if that same player drops critical 3rd down targets and stalls a drive, then the impact of that drp goes up significantly. The data also pans out for this metric...
Again, the statistical differential is not huge, but the trend is very real.
2022 Bills' Receiver Drop Rates:
- Khalil Shakir 10.0% (only 20 targets - not a significant enough sample)
- Devin Singletary (9.4%)
- James Cook (9.1%)
- Isaiah McKenzie (9.0%)
- Gabe Davis (8.7%)
- NFL Average (6.3%)
- Nyheim Hines (5.4% - but most of his targets were with the Colts)
- Stefon Diggs (5.2%)
- Dawson Knox (4.6%)
Who Fits the Profile?
The Bills recently signed Deonte Harty. While he fits some of the criteria for a Positionless, Elite Deep Speed, Great Hands WR (elite speed - assuming the reports are correct that he ran a 4.35, but there are conflicting reports, and he is positionless - 54% of his snaps were at slot), he only has Ok hands (6.6% drop rate) and he is not a prototypical out side deep receiver at 5'6".
The guy that I still hope they sign is Parris Campbell
- Drop Rate 2022: 3.3%
- Drop Rate 2019-2021: 3.8%
- 40 yd Dash: 4.31
- Slot Snap% (career): 59.6% ~= positionless
I know the WR room is getting crowded with Diggs, Davis, Harty, Shakir & McKenzie, but I expect McKenzie to be cut, I really think Harty's primary role will be PR/KR and WR4/5, and Davis is on his last year of his contract. I think we need to add another and I don't want any of the WRs at the top of the draft. I don't think they are what we need.
Speed absolutley matters unless you are looking for a Slot-only WR. Other traits also matter depending on the role that you are asking that player to do.
I think a Positionless, Elite Deep Speed, Great hands WR is the kind of receiver that we need to add to this team. By adding this kind of receiver, it frees Diggs and Davis up to play more slot snaps where they are really well-suited to be great and by adding this kind of receiver, everything else becomes easier for the whole offense (even rushing and pass blocking).
What are your hopes for WR?