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UnLocking the Bronco offense?

Analyzing recent examples of teams switching from an inaccurate QB to an accurate QB year over year and the effect it has on receivers.

DENVER BRONCOS, NFL Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

In 2020 Drew Lock was one of the least (if not the least) accurate starting quarterbacks in the NFL. This varies depending upon which site you use for your data.

PFR shows Lock was 32nd of 35 qualifiers at on-target percentage (73.9 percent). Only Carson Wentz, Dwayne Haskins and Nick Mullens were worse.

SIS shows that Lock had an on-target percentage of 65 percent. That was better than Daniel Jones, Sam Darnold, Haskins, and Wentz among full-time starters.

For comparison Teddy Bridgewater in 2020 had an on-target percentage of 80.5 percent, according to PFR and 73.6 percent according to SIS.

However you want to slice it, Bridgewater was much more accurate as a passer in 2020 than Lock. This got me thinking about what effect this might have on our receivers for 2021. What kind of year-over-year improvement might we see from them? Will we get more yards after catch? Will catch rates improve? So I looked at five examples from recent history of teams switching from an “inaccurate” quarterback to an “accurate” quarterback year-over-year - accuracy judged by on-target percentage.

Two examples are from the Broncos, but I’ll save them for last.

2019 to 2020 Bucs - Jameis Winston to Tom Brady

2019 to 2020 Panthers - Kyle Allen (and friends) to Teddy Bridgewater

2018 to 2019 Cardinals - Josh Rosen to Kyler Murray

2017 to 2018 Broncos - Trevor Siemian (and friends) to Case Keenum

2011 to 2012 Broncos - Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning (the most extreme example you can envision).

We’re going to focus on players who had one or more catch per game unless it’s notable otherwise.

2019 to 2020 Bucs

In 2019 Jameis Winston had an on-target percentage of 69.9 percent (PFR) or 65.5 percent (SIS). Both Chris Goodwin and Mike Evans made the Pro Bowl in 2019 with Winston throwing them the ball. According to PFR, Winston was the least accurate starting QB in 2019.

2019 Bucs Tgt Rec Yds Y/R TD Ctch%
Chris Godwin* 121 86 1333 15.5 9 71.1%
Mike Evans* 118 67 1157 17.3 8 56.8%
Breshad Perriman 69 36 645 17.9 6 52.2%
Cameron Brate 55 36 311 8.6 4 65.5%
Dare Ogunbowale 46 35 286 8.2 0 76.1%
O.J. Howard 53 34 459 13.5 1 64.2%
Ronald Jones II 40 31 309 10 0 77.5%
Peyton Barber 24 16 115 7.2 1 66.7%

Their top three pass-catchers in terms of targets were all wide receivers, and those three accounted for about half of all of their targets (308), 189 catches (of 382), 23 TDs (of 33) and 3,135 yards (of 5,127). Note that both Evans and Brashad Perriman caught fewer than two-thirds of their targets in 2019.

In 2020, with Brady throwing the ball to them, there were some notable changes. First let’s focus on the receivers who were on the Bucs both seasons - Goodwin, Evans, Ronald Jones II, Cameron Brate, O.J Howard (injured) and Scott Miller. Starting with Miller - he had 26 targets, 13 catches, 200 yards, 1 TD and caught 50 percent of his targets in 2019. You can see below that he benefitted greatly from a new quarterback.

2020 Bucs Tgt Rec Yds Y/R TD Ctch%
Mike Evans 109 70 1006 14.4 13 64.2%
Chris Godwin 84 65 840 12.9 7 77.4%
Antonio Brown 62 45 483 10.7 4 72.6%
Rob Gronkowski 77 45 623 13.8 7 58.4%
Leonard Fournette 47 36 233 6.5 0 76.6%
Scott Miller 53 33 501 15.2 3 62.3%
Ronald Jones II 42 28 165 5.9 1 66.7%
Cameron Brate 34 28 282 10.1 2 82.4%
O.J. Howard 19 11 146 13.3 2 57.9%

In 2020 Miller was targeted 53 times, more than double his targets in 2019. He essentially went from being WR5 to WR3 or WR4 (depending on whether Antonio Brown was playing or not). Miller’s catch rate went up to 62 percent from 50 percent.

Cameron Brate lost a bunch of targets to Rob Gronkowski, but his catch rate shot way up from 66 percent to 82 percent (one of the best in the league among TEs in 2020). Evans and Goodwin both saw a reduction in their total targets, but both had an increase in their catch rate (and a decrease in their yards per catch). Evans caught 64 percent of his targets (up from 56 percent) and Goodwin caught 77 of his (up from 71 percent).

Overall the move from Winston to Brady led to higher catch rates, but fewer yards per catch. Both are what you would expect given the level of accuracy and aggressiveness shift between those two quarterbacks.

2019 to 2020 Panthers

The 2019 Panthers had Cam Newton (two starts), Kyle Allen (12 starts) and Will Grier (two starts) at quarterback. Looking at PFR here are the on-target numbers for the three:

Newton - 62.8 percent

Allen - 76.3 percent

Grier - 63.3 percent

Allen was 12th among starting QBs in terms of accuracy, according to PFR, but his numbers at SIS are much worse. His on-target percentage at SIS was 66.3 percent, which was 8th worst among qualifiers (min 200 passes).

The 2020 Panthers’ starting quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, will be the 2021 Bronco starting QB. In 2020 Bridgewater had on on-target percentage of 80.5 from PFR and 73.6 from SIS. Both values were near the top of the league for starting QBs in 2020. Bridgewater was similarly accurate in his five starts with the Saints in 2019.

The Panthers are somewhat hard to judge because so much of their 2019 offense revolved around Christian McCaffrey. CMC accounted for 287 of 386 rushing attempts (74 percent), 142 of 600 targets (24 percent) and 116 of 382 catches (30 percent). CMC also accounted for 2,392 of 5,469 yards from scrimmage (44 percent) which was the largest percentage in the league.

2019 Panthers Tgt Rec Yds Y/R TD Ctch%
Christian McCaffrey*+ 142 116 1005 8.7 4 81.7%
D.J. Moore 135 87 1175 13.5 4 64.4%
Curtis Samuel 105 54 627 11.6 6 51.4%
Greg Olsen 82 52 597 11.5 2 63.4%
Jarius Wright 58 28 296 10.6 0 48.3%
Ian Thomas 30 16 136 8.5 1 53.3%

CMC missed all but three games in 2020. Suffice it to say that the Panthers offense, under rookie head coach Matt Ruhle, had to reinvent itself after the loss of CMC for the year. DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel were both back as the No. 2 and 3 receiving options, but in 2020 they were behind Robby Anderson instead of CMC. Also back was TE Ian Thomas who took on a larger role with the retirement of Greg Olsen.

2020 Panthers Tgt Rec Yds Y/R TD Ctch%
Robby Anderson 136 95 1096 11.5 3 69.9%
Curtis Samuel 97 77 851 11.1 3 79.4%
D.J. Moore 118 66 1193 18.1 4 55.9%
Mike Davis 70 59 373 6.3 2 84.3%
Ian Thomas 31 20 145 7.3 1 64.5%
Christian McCaffrey 19 17 149 8.8 1 89.5%
Rodney Smith 11 9 59 6.6 0 81.8%

Samuel saw a huge jump in catch rate in 2020 relative to 2019 (51 percent to 79 percent). His targets stayed about the same (105 to 97) as did his yards per catch. Moore went from 135 targets to 118 and he actually saw his catch rate drop from 64 percent to 56 percent. However his yards per catch jumped dramatically from 13.5 to 18.1, meaning that he was catching deeper passes in 2020 relative to 2019. His yards before catch per reception in 2019 was 9.1, which jumped to 12.3 in 2020, meaning he was catching the ball three yards farther downfield on average with Bridgewater throwing him the ball than with Allen (and others). This was a progression for Moore who had a similar jump in YBC/R from 2018 to 2019. His YBC/R in 2018 was 6.7. His yards after catch in 2019 was almost exactly what it was in 2020 (384 to 382).

In contrast to Moore, Samuel actually saw his YBC/R go down with Teddy throwing him the ball in 2020. He went from 8.8 to 6.9, but he saw his YAC/R go up significantly from 2.8 to 4.2. His YAC more than doubled year over year from 153 to 320. His average depth of target (ADOT) went from a crazy high 14.6 in 2019 to half of that, 7.3, in 2020. Samuel was getting utilized very differently with Bridgewater throwing him the ball in Joe Brady’s offense than he was with Allen throwing him the ball in Norv Turner’s offense.

Ian Thomas saw his catch rate go up to 65 percent from 53 percent while his yards per catch dropped from 8.5 to 7.3. His ADOT decreased somewhat (from 3.9 to 3.4) as did his YAC/R (4.6 to 3.9). His drop rate went down significantly, but it’s hard to judge with so few targets (10 percent down to 3 percent). He had three drops in 2019 and one drop in 2020.

In general the Panthers receivers who were the same from 2019 to 2020 benefitted from the switch to a more accurate quarterback.

2018 to 2019 Cardinals

The 2018 Cardinals had rookie Josh Rosen (13 starts) and veteran Sam Bradford (3 starts) starting for them at QB. Bradford would retire after that season. According to SIS, Rosen had an on-target percentage of 64.1 percent, which was near the bottom of the league. Bradford was average at 71.3 percent (on 80 passing attempts).

The Cardinals’ receiving corps essentially began and ended with Larry Fitzgerald.

2018 Cardinals Tgt Rec Yds Y/R TD Ctch%
Larry Fitzgerald 112 69 734 10.6 6 61.6%
David Johnson 76 50 446 8.9 3 65.8%
Ricky Seals-Jones 69 34 343 10.1 1 49.3%
Christian Kirk 68 43 590 13.7 3 63.2%
Chad Williams 46 17 171 10.1 1 37.0%
Trent Sherfield 28 19 210 11.1 1 67.9%
Chase Edmonds 23 20 103 5.2 0 87.0%

According to SIS, Kyler Murray had an ontarget percentage of 67.3 percent as a rookie in 2019. PFR gives him a value of 73.5 percent. Both values are on the low end of average among starting QBs. However both are improvements over 2018 Rosen.

The 2019 Cardinals receivers were fairly different from 2018, but Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, David Johnson and Chase Edmonds were all still on the team.

Fitzgerald saw a small improvement in his catch percentage (from 62 to 69 percent). His career average is 61 percent. The rest of this number stayed largely the same other than his YBC/R (went from 7.7 to 6.1) and his YAC/R (went from 3.0 to 4.6). His average depth of target (ADOT) went from 9.2 down to 7.8.

2019 Cardinals Tgt Rec Yds Y/R TD Ctch%
Larry Fitzgerald 109 75 804 10.7 4 68.8%
Christian Kirk 108 68 709 10.4 3 63.0%
David Johnson 47 36 370 10.3 4 76.6%
Damiere Byrd 46 32 359 11.2 1 69.6%
KeeSean Johnson 42 21 187 8.9 1 50.0%
Kenyan Drake 35 28 171 6.1 0 80.0%
Pharoh Cooper 33 25 243 9.7 1 75.8%
Charles Clay 24 18 237 13.2 1 75.0%
Chase Edmonds 21 12 105 8.8 1 57.1%

Kirk, who was a fellow rookie with Rosen in 2018, saw his targets increase from 68 to 108 while his catch rate stayed about the same. His yards per catch dropped from 13.7 down to 10.4 and his YBC/R dropped (8.5 to 6.2) while his ADOT didn’t change much (9.6 to 10.0).

David Johnson was in his first year back from the injury in 2017 that cost him most of the season. While he was still a decent back, he was not the same player that he had been prior to the injury (in 2016 when he was 1st team AllPro). That being said, his catch rate, YPR and ADOT all went up in 2019 relative to 2018. His ADOT was the most significant. His ADOT in 2018 was 0.9 yards. That increased to 3.4 in 2019, meaning that he was used in many more passes that were caught beyond the LOS in 2018 than in 2019. Screen passes are an easy way to help/protect a young or rookie QB and it would appear that Rosen threw plenty of them in 2018 while they were much less a part of Murray’s passing attack in 2019.

I should note that the 2018 Cardinals had Byron Leftwich and Mike McCoy as offensive coordinators. The 2019 Cardinals had head coach Kliff Kingsbury as both HC and OC. Rosen had 75 throws behind the LOS in 2018 (of 393 attempts - 19 percent). That was the highest behind the LOS throw percentages among starting QBs in 2018. Winston had the lowest at 5.0 percent. Interestingly, Kyler Murray led the league in 2019 in percent of throws behind the LOS (among starters); 20.1 percent of his throws were behind the LOS (109 of 542). So the shift from Rosen to Murray is not the only reason for the ADOT increase year over year with Johnson.

2017 to 2018 Broncos

Neither SIS nor PFR has on-target data available for 2017. SIS has catchable pass percentage so I’ll use that. Trevor Siemian was average among starters in 2017 with a catchable percentage of 73.6. Drew Brees was best in the league at 81.0 and Deshone Kizer was worst at 67.4. Case Keenum with the Vikings in 2017 was third best at 77.8.

At quarterback the 2017 Broncos had Trevor Siemian start 10 games, Brock Osweiler start four games and Paxton Lynch start two games.

2017 Broncos Rec Yds Y/R TD Ctch%
Demaryius Thomas 83 949 11.4 5 59.3%
Emmanuel Sanders 47 555 11.8 2 51.1%
Devontae Booker 30 275 9.2 0 78.9%
Bennie Fowler 29 350 12.1 3 51.8%
C.J. Anderson 28 224 8 1 70.0%
Jamaal Charles 23 129 5.6 0 82.1%
A.J. Derby 19 224 11.8 2 61.3%
Cody Latimer 19 287 15.1 2 61.3%
2018 Broncos Tgt Rec Yds Y/R TD Ctch%
Emmanuel Sanders 98 71 868 12.2 4 72.4%
Courtland Sutton 84 42 704 16.8 4 50.0%
Devontae Booker 51 38 275 7.2 0 74.5%
Demaryius Thomas 56 36 402 11.2 3 64.3%
Phillip Lindsay* 47 35 241 6.9 1 74.5%
Jeff Heuerman 48 31 281 9.1 2 64.6%
DaeSean Hamilton 45 30 243 8.1 2 66.7%
Matt LaCosse 37 24 250 10.4 1 64.9%
Tim Patrick 41 23 315 13.7 1 56.1%

In 2018 Keenum was average in catchable percentage at 75.8 (Brees best at 83.6, Rosen worst at 67.7). So he was slightly more accurate than Siemian, who threw the majority of the passes for the 2017 Broncos.

The receiving corps was almost completely different from year to year. The only significant contributors who returned were Demaryius Thomas (who was traded half-way into the season), Devontae Booker and Emmanuel Sanders. Thomas’ catch rate went up to 64 from 59 percent.

According to SIS, Thomas had 102 catchable balls thrown to him in 2017 and he caught 83 of those (81.4 percent). Among receivers with 80 or more targets Emmanuel Sanders had the lowest percentage of catchable balls thrown to him in 2017 (only 69 of 93 targets were deemed catchable by SIS). In 2018 Thomas had 56 targets with the Broncos and 48 were deemed catchable (75.0 percent). This was fairly comparable year over year for Thomas, but Sanders had 82 of his 98 targets deemed catchable in 2018 (86.6 percent) which was a big improvement relative to the passes he was getting from Siemian, Osweiler and Lynch in 2017. Thomas’ ADOT in 2017 was 10.6 while Sanders’ was 10.5. In 2018, with the Broncos, Thomas’ ADOT was 10.4 and Sanders’ was 9.1.

Booker had 33 of his 38 targets deemed catchable (87 percent) in 2017 and 239 of his receiving yards came after the catch with only 36 coming before the catch. In 2018 Booker had 41 of 51 targets deemed catchable (80 percent) and he had 240 yards after the catch with 35 before. At least for Booker, it did not matter if he has Siemian, Osweiler, Lynch or Keenum throwing him the ball. His numbers and his role in the passing game appeared to be largely unchanged year over year.

2011 to 2012 Broncos

I debated even writing anything here. It’s hard to imagine a greater contrast in passing accuracy between two quarterbacks than there was between Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning. I’m just going to drop the data in here since many of the 2011 Broncos receiving corps were also on the 2012 Broncos.

None of the advanced data that I have been discussing prior goes back to 2012 or 2011, although it’s not really needed.

2011 Broncos Tgt Rec Yds Y/R TD Ctch%
Eric Decker 96 44 612 13.9 8 45.8%
Demaryius Thomas 70 32 551 17.2 4 45.7%
Eddie Royal 50 19 155 8.2 1 38.0%
Daniel Fells 31 19 256 13.5 3 61.3%
Brandon Lloyd 31 19 283 14.9 0 61.3%
Matt Willis 36 18 267 14.8 1 50.0%
Lance Ball 32 16 148 9.3 1 50.0%
Willis McGahee* 20 12 51 4.3 1 60.0%
Knowshon Moreno 15 11 101 9.2 1 73.3%
2012 Broncos Tgt Rec Yds Y/R TD Ctch%
Demaryius Thomas* 143 94 1434 15.3 10 65.7%
Eric Decker 122 85 1064 12.5 13 69.7%
Jacob Tamme 85 52 555 10.7 2 61.2%
Brandon Stokley 58 45 544 12.1 5 77.6%
Joel Dreessen 58 41 356 8.7 5 70.7%
Willis McGahee 33 26 221 8.5 0 78.8%
Knowshon Moreno 26 21 167 8.0 0 80.8%
Matt Willis 22 10 90 9.0 0 45.5%
Lance Ball 12 7 61 8.7 1 58.3%

Even our running backs in 2011 were not catching many of their targets, mainly because so many of them were uncatchable.

Poll

Which Bronco receiver do you expect to benefit the most from having a much more accurate passer throwing them the ball in 2020 relative to 2019?

This poll is closed

  • 82%
    Jerry Jeudy
    (423 votes)
  • 4%
    KJ Hamler
    (25 votes)
  • 1%
    Tim Patrick
    (8 votes)
  • 8%
    Noah Fant
    (45 votes)
  • 0%
    Albert Okwuegbunam
    (3 votes)
  • 2%
    someone else - call out in comments
    (11 votes)
515 votes total Vote Now