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Breaking Down the Roster - Part 3: Wide Receivers

Opening Statement

Good afternoon, everyone. I hope you all have a great weekend. Over the last week, I have attempted to understand Denver's offense in a better way with a study on the quarterbacks and running backs. You can view these articles here:

Breaking Down the Roster - Part 1: Quarterback

Breaking Down the Roster - Part 2: Running Back

Now, it is time to study Denver's wide receivers. While many stat-based websites discuss how overrated wide receivers are to the game, having a great group of wide receivers is definitely a positive. If each of them know their role and do not act like their are the center of the team, wide receivers can have a profound impact on the game.

They don't just make exceptional plays in traffic or one-on-one, but by their presence, can create room for a successful running game if the safeties feel the need to play it safe. Great wide receivers also are great at blocking, which again, supports the running back. Since it is difficult to measure how a wide receiver effects the running game, I will simply focus on their production catching passes.

As always, these stats come from as well as my website, I have created ratings that I use for quarterback, running back, receiver, offensive line and the defensive front. These ratings measure all the important aspects of each unit.

The Stats

Denver has eight wide receivers on its roster: Britt Davis, Eric Decker, Jabar Gaffney, Brandon Lloyd, Eron Riley, Eddie Royal, Demaryius Thomas and Matthew Willis. They have a combined NFL experience of 25 years. If you take out Gaffney and Lloyd, the remaining six have a combined 8 years of experience. Even though there is plenty of "potential" and "talent", the fact remains there is not a lot of established production in this group.

Since Denver has two unique groups of receivers, I have broken them down into the veterans that have had solid production, and the young receivers who have had either limited or no NFL experience and are still unproven, even if they possess "potential" to be a solid contributor.

I have included other receivers around the NFL to serve as a measurement for Denver's receivers

The Veterans

Player 2010 RAT
Career RAT
Brandon Lloyd 112.3 61.1
Jabar Gaffney 66.0 48.5
Eddie Royal 59.3 63.5
Roddy White 118.3 84.7
Greg Jennings 109.1 94.0
Reggie Wayne 108.7 91.9
Santonio Holmes 80.2 76.2
Derrick Mason 78.5 75.5
Jeremy Maclin 93.7 82.8

As you can see above, Lloyd had a truly remarkable season, and not just because he ranked as the third best receiver in 2010. His career total was awful until he came to Denver. On the other hand, Gaffney played the same way he has most of his career as a solid possession receiver.

Unfortunately for Royal, he has never really reached the level of production on a consistent basis that most of us envisioned him having. In his rookie season, Royal compiled a 92.2 rating. Only 18 receivers had a higher rating in 2010 than his 2008 total. Instead, Royal did not even rank in the top-35 and his role on the team is still in doubt. It will be up to Fox to decide on how much special teams duties Royal is given as well as if he will be the primary slot receiver. Whatever Denver decides, they have a gifted receiver that needs to be put in the best situation for him to succeed.

For Denver to have good passing game, its veteran's need to play well as a whole. Lloyd doesn't need a huge season, but rather, they need to collectively put pressure on opposing defenses. The bulk of Denver's production needs to start here. The next chart shows the rest of Denver's wide receivers.

The Young Receivers

Player MRSP


Games Rec Yds Tds Games Rec Yds Tds
Matthew Willis 6 1 17 0 12 2 28 0
Demaryius Thomas* 10 22 283 2

Eric Decker* 14 6 106 1

Eron Riley 12 61 693 8 42 144 2413 22
Britt Davis 9 14 113 0 43 146 1676 8

*- indicates rookie season; italics - indicates college stats; MRSP - Most Recent Season Played

As you can see above, there is not a whole lot of production. Willis has had very few opportunities to even see playing time in his 3-year career so far. Thomas and Decker showed flashes but did not make a huge contribution. Riley and Davis, like Willis, are unknowns that have a small chance at contributing right away.

As I stated in the summary of Denver's core three receivers, the best possible outcome for Denver is to have great depth, not just one star and everyone else contributing on occasion. While there is not much that can be said as far as stats go, I believe Denver needs Thomas and Decker to make the jump from this table to the table above with Gaffney, Lloyd and Royal. How far they jump will go a long way in determining how successful Denver's passing game is, not only in 2011, but for the next 5-6 years.

Finally, lets take a loot at the offenses from last year that scored the most passing touchdowns. I have included Denver's totals to compare them to the top passing teams in the NFL. The reason I sorted them by passing touchdowns instead of by passing yards per game is because scoring is a much better indicator of success.

Team Off PPG Pass YPG Tds WR 4+ Tds RB 2+ Tds TE 4+ Tds
New England Patriots 28.5 240.4 37 2 0 2
Indianapolis Colts 25 288.1 33 4 0 1
New Orleans Saints 23 277.6 33 3 0 1
Green Bay Packers 22.5 257.8 31 3 1 0
New York Giants 24.6 242.8 31 2 0 1
San Diego Chargers* 26.1 282.4 30 1 1 1
Dallas Cowboys 21.6 252.6 29 3 0 1
Atlanta Falcons 23.7 222.9 28 1 1 1
Philadelphia Eagles 26.1 244.1 28 2 1 1
Kansas City Chiefs 21.1 185.5 27 1 1 0
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Denver Broncos 20.6 252.4 25 1 2 0

*San Diego - Rivers threw 12 touchdowns to 8 receivers not represented. These receivers had limited playing time due to their own injuries or injury to teammates.

Of the ten teams above:

  • 7 made the playoffs
  • 7 scored over 23 points per game
  • 7 had at least two wide receivers with four touchdown receptions or more
  • 8 had at least one tight end with four touchdown receptions or more

Teams win because they have great depth and great talent. Green Bay won the Super Bowl because they had the second best quarterback in 2010, a top-5 wide receiver, the second best scoring defense, and countless players capable of coming off the bench and producing when they were needed.

The chart above explains why depth is extremely vital to team success. This next pair of statistics, however, show why having a great receiver helped these teams above. For the 2010 regular season:

  • 15 out of the top-35 wide receivers play for them (43% of the top wide receivers played for 31% of the teams)
  • 5 out of the top-10 wide receivers play for them (50% of the elite receivers played for 31% of the teams)

Those two statistics didn't even include the tight ends that play for these teams. Denver got excellent production from Brandon Lloyd, but that was all they got. No other receiver, or tight end, took the burden off of him.

In Summary

I understand fully that much of the success given to wide receivers, tight ends and running backs is simply a result of great quarterback play. Having Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or any of the other really good quarterbacks on your team makes a huge difference. However, the opposite can also be said. These quarterbacks have also benefited from great receivers.

Whether it is Kyle Orton or Tim Tebow, the supporting cast must be there to help. This means Lloyd will need to duplicate that type of production. Royal needs to find his niche. Thomas and Decker need to validate being picked in the first three rounds. If they do this, Denver will definitely be near the top-ten teams in scoring offense.