FanPost

Brandon Marshall's On-Field Problems

 

In just 15 games in 2008, Brandon Marshall caught 104 passes. The feat ranked third in the NFL for the season (behind Andre Johnson and Wes Welker) and second in the all-time history of the Denver Broncos. With our own eyes, we saw the remarkable degree to which he keyed the offense. We marveled at his acrobatic catches (think of the rising, back-of-the-endzone grab in Kansas City) and his often astonishing ability to stay on his feet, describing a perfect circle behind the defense as he hauls in the ball on the sideline, shakes off a defender, and cuts back behind the grain. It was wonderful, and as much as we all loved Rod Smith's dedication to the game and technical expertise, Marshall's physical gifts captured our attention in a unique way.

But our eyes often deceive us, and the highlight-reel memories we assemble of a player can misled - often badly - when it comes to assessing his impact on the team. This article looks at the considerable cost at which Marshall's accomplishments came, and asks what a fair appraisal of his production (as opposed to his talent and potential) looks like. Two points before we jump in. First, a hat tip to Jaffe28, who posted a more concise form of these statistics earlier today. I've been working on this for awhile, and don't want it to be seen as plagiarism. Second, I want Marshall to stay on the team - this is not a hit job. My point of departure is the observation that he has asked the Broncos to evaluate his potential. Given all the if's attached to this young man, I want to ask what his production has looked like once we account for the disproportionate number of times Jay Cutler threw to him last year. Every throw on the football field comes at a cost - of another receiver not thrown to, or of a run not taken. To me, the dominant question is: how efficient were the Broncos when they directed the action Marshall's way? The analysis below doesn't try to answer the quesiton of whether Brandon Marshall or Jay Cutler or Jeremy Bates is at fault for Marshall's underwhelming numbers. It just asks what those numbers are, and contextualizes them via comparison to the league's other frequently targeted wide receivers.

Putting aside his injuries, legal troubles, contract demands and attitude, a closer look at the numbers suggests several important qualifications to Marshall's on-field performance. We all know about his relative lack of touchdowns. Marshall reached the end zone just six times last year, and just seven times the year before that. But a bigger concern to my mind is the relative inefficiency of the passing game when it has been directed Marshall's way. Rather than dance around the point, I'll cut straight to the table:

Table 1: Reception Percentage (Receptions/Targets)

Name

Team

Target

Rec

Reception Percentage

Wes Welker

NE

150

112

74.7%

Anquan Boldin

ARI

126

89

70.6%

Eddie Royal

DEN

129

91

70.5%

Lance Moore

NO

113

79

69.9%

Donald Driver

GB

107

74

69.2%

Steve Breaston

ARI

113

77

68.1%

Andre Johnson

HOU

170

115

67.6%

T.J. Houshmandzadeh

CIN

137

92

67.2%

Greg Camarillo

MIA

83

55

66.3%

Derrick Mason

BAL

121

80

66.1%

Hines Ward

PIT

126

82

65.1%

Greg Jennings

GB

125

80

64.0%

Jerricho Cotchery

NYJ

112

71

63.4%

Kevin Walter

HOU

95

60

63.2%

Reggie Wayne

IND

130

82

63.1%

Larry Fitzgerald

ARI

154

96

62.3%

Lee Evans

BUF

102

63

61.8%

Michael Jenkins

ATL

81

50

61.7%

Antwaan Randle El

WAS

87

53

60.9%

Antonio Bryant

TB

138

84

60.9%

Steve Smith

CAR

129

78

60.5%

Laveranues Coles

NYJ

116

70

60.3%

Bobby Wade

MIN

88

53

60.2%

Ted Ginn

MIA

93

56

60.2%

Muhsin Muhammad

CAR

108

65

60.2%

Matt Jones

JAC

107

64

59.8%

Roddy White

ATL

149

88

59.1%

Vincent Jackson

SD

101

59

58.4%

Brandon Stokley

DEN

85

49

57.6%

Santana Moss

WAS

138

79

57.2%

Brandon Marshall

DEN

182

104

57.1%

Devin Hester

CHI

92

52

56.5%

Isaac Bruce

SF

107

60

56.1%

Marvin Harrison

IND

107

60

56.1%

Dwayne Bowe

KC

157

86

54.8%

Randy Moss

NE

126

69

54.8%

Chad Ochocinco

CIN

97

53

54.6%

Marques Colston

NO

87

47

54.0%

Amani Toomer

NYG

89

48

53.9%

Torry Holt

STL

119

64

53.8%

Donnie Avery

STL

104

54

51.9%

Calvin Johnson

DET

151

78

51.7%

DeSean Jackson

PHI

121

62

51.2%

Bernard Berrian

MIN

95

48

50.5%

Mark Clayton

BAL

82

41

50.0%

Terrell Owens

DAL

140

69

49.3%

Santonio Holmes

PIT

114

55

48.2%

Roy Williams

DET

82

36

43.9%

Braylon Edwards

CLE

138

55

39.9%

On his way to completing those 104 throws to Marshall, Jay Cutler threw the ball his way 182 times. Andre Johnson, the league's second most thrown-to receiver was targeted "just" 170 times and finished with 310 more yards. Putting aside, for a moment, the question of what kinds of throws the quarterbacks in question made, we have an easy explanation for Marshall's comparatively low yardage production: Compared to the league's best wide-outs, he caught a small percentage of the balls thrown his way. To be specific, Marshall's catch-conversion rate (that is, the share of times he caught balls thrown his way) was 57.1% -- the thirty-first best rate for wide receivers targeted at least 80 times.

Pro football has many kinds of receivers, routes, and plays, so I'll try to put the number in context. First of all, look at the top three receivers in the table. Wes Welker and Eddie Royal (OK, I buried the lede on that one) run different kinds of routes - shorter, lower-reward, and far more likely to result in completions. Welker caught nearly three out of four balls thrown his way, and Royal caught seven out of ten. Anquan Boldin, while more obviously athletic, plays a similar-ish role on the Cardinals' offense. As far as I'm concerned, he's a revelation, and if I were a desperate team targeting a disenchanted wideout with iffy health and dollar signs in his eyes, I know who it would be.

OK, let's take another cut at the numbers. Draw an imaginary line below Michael Jenkins. That line marks the league-wide completion percentage of 61% for last year; every Wide Receiver above the line had a catch-rate (or, if you prefer, completion percentage) above the league average. That's a noteworthy achievement for a wide-out because the league-wide completion rate includes lots of low-risk, check-down throws to running backs, #4 wideouts, and other players who make good targets precisely because they're such lesser threats that the defense often leaves them open. Look closely at the twenty players above the line, and you see many (although not all) of the truly elite #1 wide-outs: Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Lee Evans, Greg Jennings. What's notable here is that Marshall comes in behind not only these highly accomplished monsters, but behind a number of receivers - Matt Jones, Tedd Ginn, Jerico Cotchery, Kevin Walter, Antonio Bryant - who earn far less acclaim.

OK, fine, he didn't catch a lot balls, you say, but catching the ball is not a wide receiver's only job. He's also supposed to make big plays. Sure, the Walsh offense and increasing sophistication of the passing game have made it a lower-risk, lower-reward endeavor, but a deep threat that stretches the defense and moves the team down the field in big leaps still has a lot of value. Despite his physical gifts, Marshall is not that player. To the contrary, despite his low reception rate, he performs better as a short, possession receiver - drops and all - than he does as a deep threat.

Table 2: Yards per Reception

Name

Team

Rec

Yard

Yards/Reception

Bernard Berrian

MIN

48

964

20.1

Vincent Jackson

SD

59

1,098

18.6

Steve Smith

CAR

78

1,417

18.2

Calvin Johnson

DET

78

1,331

17.1

Mark Clayton

BAL

41

695

17.0

Marques Colston

NO

47

760

16.2

Greg Jennings

GB

80

1,292

16.2

Lee Evans

BUF

63

1,017

16.1

Braylon Edwards

CLE

55

877

15.9

Roddy White

ATL

88

1,382

15.7

Michael Jenkins

ATL

50

777

15.5

Terrell Owens

DAL

69

1,052

15.2

Kevin Walter

HOU

60

899

15.0

Larry Fitzgerald

ARI

96

1,434

14.9

Santonio Holmes

PIT

55

821

14.9

Antonio Bryant

TB

84

1,249

14.9

DeSean Jackson

PHI

62

912

14.7

Randy Moss

NE

69

1,008

14.6

Muhsin Muhammad

CAR

65

923

14.2

Ted Ginn

MIA

56

790

14.1

Reggie Wayne

IND

82

1,145

14.0

Isaac Bruce

SF

60

833

13.9

Andre Johnson

HOU

115

1,575

13.7

Donald Driver

GB

74

1,012

13.7

Santana Moss

WAS

79

1,044

13.2

Steve Breaston

ARI

77

1,003

13.0

Derrick Mason

BAL

80

1,037

13.0

Devin Hester

CHI

52

665

12.8

Hines Ward

PIT

82

1,047

12.8

Donnie Avery

STL

54

684

12.7

Torry Holt

STL

64

796

12.4

Bobby Wade

MIN

53

645

12.2

Brandon Marshall

DEN

104

1,265

12.2

Laveranues Coles

NYJ

70

850

12.1

Jerricho Cotchery

NYJ

71

858

12.1

Amani Toomer

NYG

48

580

12.1

Roy Williams

DET

36

430

11.9

Dwayne Bowe

KC

86

1,022

11.9

Lance Moore

NO

79

928

11.7

Matt Jones

JAC

64

750

11.7

Anquan Boldin

ARI

89

1,038

11.7

Antwaan Randle El

WAS

53

593

11.2

Greg Camarillo

MIA

55

613

11.1

Brandon Stokley

DEN

49

528

10.8

Eddie Royal

DEN

91

980

10.8

Marvin Harrison

IND

60

636

10.6

Wes Welker

NE

112

1,165

10.4

Chad Ochocinco

CIN

53

540

10.2

T.J. Houshmandzadeh

CIN

92

904

9.8

More interesting than Marshall's numbers are the overall numbers for the Broncos' passing game. Marshall ranks 33rd in yards per reception among the highly-targeted players here, but first among

 Broncos. Eddie Royal and Brandon Stokely followed, each at 10.8 yards per catch. (Tony Scheffler is another story, but he plays another position). This fascinates me because I believed that the Broncos employed a high-risk, high-reward passing game last year. The numbers here suggest it was more like a medium-risk, low-reward game.

OK, before wrapping it up, let's look at the most commonly cited mitigating factor in Marshall's production. The guy racks up a lot of first downs. In fact, it was posited - quite smartly - early today that his low Yards per Catch rate owes to the fact that the team asked him to run lots of routes only as far as the first-down marker. On this count, most of us feel that he succeeded. But once again, the numbers tell a different story.

Table 4: First Downs per Times Thrown to on Third Down

Name

TARG

FD

First Downs per Target

Derrick Mason

36

23

0.64

Hines Ward

37

23

0.62

Steve Smith

31

19

0.61

Greg Jennings

35

21

0.60

Steve Breaston

27

16

0.59

Matt Jones

27

16

0.59

Anthony Gonzalez

29

17

0.59

T.J. Houshmandzadeh

46

26

0.57

Roddy White

51

28

0.55

Wes Welker

33

18

0.55

Steve Smith

32

17

0.53

Vincent Jackson

37

19

0.51

Reggie Wayne

39

20

0.51

Dwayne Bowe

39

20

0.51

Brandon Stokley

39

20

0.51

Laveranues Coles

26

13

0.50

Jason Avant

26

13

0.50

Anquan Boldin

34

17

0.50

Davone Bess

25

12

0.48

Patrick Crayton

25

12

0.48

Andre Johnson

30

14

0.47

Donald Driver

39

18

0.46

DeSean Jackson

37

17

0.46

Santonio Holmes

44

20

0.45

Isaac Bruce

40

18

0.45

Jerricho Cotchery

34

15

0.44

Bernard Berrian

26

11

0.42

Brandon Marshall

43

18

0.42

Amani Toomer

25

10

0.40

Brandon Jones

30

12

0.40

Lance Moore

35

14

0.40

Chad Ochocinco

28

11

0.39

Devin Hester

29

11

0.38

Antonio Bryant

46

17

0.37

Mark Clayton

28

10

0.36

Kevin Walter

34

12

0.35

Bobby Engram

26

9

0.35

Justin McCareins

26

9

0.35

Muhsin Muhammad

35

12

0.34

Braylon Edwards

38

13

0.34

Santana Moss

35

11

0.31

Terrell Owens

43

13

0.30

Calvin Johnson

45

13

0.29

Torry Holt

39

9

0.23

In 2008, 44 NFL receivers were targeted 25 or more times on Third Down. Collectively, Quarterbacks threw 1,509 passes their way. They converted 687 into first downs, for an average conversion rate of 46%. Brandon Marshall earned 18 first downs on 43 third-down targets - a success rate of 42%. That figure places him 28th in the group.

Overall, Marshall is in the middle or the bottom of the pack for every statistic that describes a specialized wide-receiver skill. He did not catch a particularly large number of the balls thrown his way. His receptions went for short yardage. And on third down, he moved the chains at a below-average rate. On none of the receiving statistics above did he rank above 28th in the NFL.

So am I saying he's a lousy receiver, and that the Broncos should kick him to the curb? No. I think he can flourish, and mightily, in the McDaniels system. My analysis is not the most charitable. He probably should not be blamed for Cutler forcing the ball to him as often as Cutler did. The problems of the Jeremy Bates scheme are not his fault. And yet those problems are the reason why Marshall, despite the many what-ifs surrounding his future performance - can he stay healthy? Will he give his all to the team? Will he stay on the roster? Will he stay out of lock-up? - is demanding his payday. If Cutler had spread the ball around more or the Broncos had called more running plays (as they should have), his numbers would not be so gaudy. As the tables above show, the single most impressive thing about Marshall's on-field performance was the number of times Jay Cutler threw him the ball.

Marshall's talent captivates me. I want him to succeed. And I want him to do it in a Broncos uniform. But when weighing the many risks of his future against the documented inefficiency of his production with the Broncos, I don't like the results. I hope the team can keep him this year under his current contract. Barring that, I hope that some other team - hello, Dan Snyder - focuses on his upside rather than his production. Because I fear that's the only way the Broncos will get maximum value out of this gifted, frustrating athlete.

This is a Fan-Created Comment on MileHighReport.com. The opinion here is not necessarily shared by the editorial staff of MHR

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