Looking back at the 2018 season which teams were the most improved and most declined in various statistics. Today I look at the passing game and specifically the Yards per Pass Attempt statistic. This one seems to best capture a team’s success in the passing game in just one stat. The other stats such as passing yards, completion percentage, yards per reception give just a part of the picture.
First we look at the top three teams that improved the most from 2017 to 2018 in passing yards per attempt. We look at what went well in 2018 and how they positioned themselves to improve more in 2019. These are not the teams that lead in yards/attempt but rather the teams that improved the most from the previous year. We follow with the three teams that dropped the most in rankings for this statistic.
Three Most Improved Teams in Passing Yards Per Attempt
1. Cleveland Browns
2017 – Rank: 31, Yds/Att: 5.6
2018 – Rank: 13, Yds/Att: 7.0
Mayfield was impressive his rookie year. Here are the all time quarterbacks that in their rookie year had 3,000+ passing yards, 60+% completion rate, 20+ passing touchdowns and a 90+ passer rating.
A good run game helps the passing game and fellow rookie running back Nick Chubb also had a good rookie year. Here are the 2018 running backs that had 100+ rushing attempts and averaged 5+ yards per attempt.
Third year receiver Rashad Higgins, who was a consensus All American in college in 2014, has provided a reliable receiving option on limited targets. He may be turning into a good receiver after a slow start. Here we have receivers in 2018 that had a 70+% catch percentage and 500+ Receiving Yards sorted by descending Yards per Target.
The Browns added Odell Beckham in 2019 with a trade with the Giants. Here we see since Beckham was drafted in 2014 the receivers that have had 2+ seasons of +7.3 yards/target, +1000 receiving yards, +13 yards per reception and a 59+% catch percent sorted in descending number of seasons. Beckham was injured for one of those five seasons.
2. New York Giants
2017 – Rank: 29, Yds/Att: 5.7
2018 – Rank: 15, Yds/Att: 6.9
Eli Manning had one of the best years of his career in 2018. Here we have 2018 quarterbacks that had a 65+% completion percent, 4000+ passing yards, 7+ passing yards per attempt and less than 15 interceptions.
Manning also was aided by an improved run game featuring rookie Saquon Barkley. He is also listed in the Nick Chubb table above.
The receivers all had good catch percentage, yards per target and yards per game. The Giants did lack a standout receiver three. Here were the top Giant receivers in 2018.
The Giants have lost Odell Beckham in free agency but have picked up Golden Tate. Here we see that Tate is one of only six receivers that have had 2+ seasons of 90+ receptions and 7.9+ yards per target over the last three years.
The Giants draft receiver Darius Slayton of Auburn in round 5. Though not a prolific receiver in college Slayton did average 20.3 yards per reception over three years and was pretty consistent with the lowest year being 19.1. In 2018 he had four receptions of 50+ yards which was tie for eighth and among the top 21 receivers. Again being consistent he also had four receptions of 50+ yards in 2017 and tie for 15th and among the top 23 receivers. In 2018 almost half of his 35 receptions were for 15+ yards. That was 55% in 2017. Again with consistency Slayton had 5 receiving touchdowns in each of 2017 and 2018. At the combine he was 6th among receivers in the forty and third in the vertical and broad jump.
I am intrigued by the Giants undrafted free agent signing of FCS receiver Alex Wesley. In each of his last two seasons he had 1000+ receiving yards, an 18.4 yards per reception average, an average of 100+ yards per game and long receptions of 62 and 83 yards. In 2018 half of his 10 games were 100+ receiving yards with two others being 96 and 97 yards. He had one game of 184 receiving yards. His team market share receiving yards in 2018 was 37.1%.
3. Chicago Bears
2017 – Rank: 24, Yds/Att: 5.9
2018 – Rank: 14, Yds/Att: 6.9
Quarterback Mitch Trubisky improved in almost every quarterback statistic from his 2017 rookie season. If we expand the quarterback query we used for Eli Manning to include passing yards of 3200+ we get a couple more good quarterbacks. Most of those new ones did not play a full season which includes Trubisky.
Trubisky had a plethora of targets to throw to. Here we see that in 2018 the Bears were one of only two teams that had five players with an average 10+ yards per reception, a 58+% catch rate, 7+ yards per target and 30+ receptions. The other team, the Eagles, lost one of those targets (Golden Tate) in free agency this year.
The Bears offensive line was eighth in the league in fewest sacks allowed (33) and second in fewest quarterback hits (64). They signed undrafted free agent offensive tackle Joe Lowery of Ohio University. Lowery made 2018 Mac All Conference First Team and 2017 All Conference second team. He was selected by Pro Football Focus as their MAC player of the year and All American Second Team. He was their third highest graded offensive tackle in the nation. Lowery led the nation’s tackles in PFF run-blocking grade and in pass protection he allowed just nine total QB pressures on 334 snaps.
The Bears have kept their top five receiving targets shown above going into the 2019 season.
I am intrigued by their undrafted free agent signing of tight end Dax Raymond. Though not a lot of 3rd down receptions (19), Raymond has made 1st down on 90% of his 3rd down receptions over his three year college career. In 2018 nineteen of his 27 receptions resulted in a first down. He is a big physical receiver with good hands.
The Bears drafted receiver Riley Ridley from Georgia in the fourth round. Ridley is a tough receiver who made my list in 2019 NFL Draft And Which Teams Became Tougher . While he did not put up huge receiving numbers at Georgia he did have a career average 14.7 yards per reception and had 9 receiving touchdowns in 2018. In 2018 he converted on eight of his nine 3rd down receptions and all of his six red zone receptions were touchdowns. His brother, Calvin Ridley, plays in the NFL for the Atlanta Falcons.
Three Most Declined Teams in Passing Yards Per Attempt
Now we look at the bottom three teams that dropped the most in the rankings for Passing Yards Per Attempt from 2017 to 2018. Again these are not necessarily the worst teams in this statistic but are rather those that dropped most between the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Again we look at how the team addressed the problem going into 2019.
30. Washington Redskins
2017 – Rank: 12, Yds/Att: 6.9
2018 – Rank: 29, Yds/Att: 5.9
The Redskins lost quarterback Alex Smith for the season after he suffered a broken leg during a game of week 11. They finished the remaining six games with a combination of Colt McCoy, Mark Sanchez and Josh Johnson at quarterback. Their record in those last six weeks was 1-5 to finish the season at 7-9.
For the receivers no one stood out as the highest receiving yards by anyone was 558 yards by their tight end Jordan Reed. The catch percentages for the wide receivers were all under 60% with the exception of Chris Thompson. However Thompson’s yards per reception was only 6.5. Of the 71 receivers that started 8 or more games the Redskins had only one, Josh Doctson, and he was 58th on the list in yards/target (6.82).
With it looking doubtful that Alex Smith would return in 2019 the team signed free agent Case Keenum from the Broncos. They then drafted Dwayne Haskins with the number 15 pick in the draft. They will have an open quarterback competition thru training camp to decide on a starter.
Colt McCoy career numbers are not that good. However his best years have been his last four at Washington and he knows the system the best.
Keenum had a very good year in Minnesota. The Denver year was not as good. Before those years he had six years of poor play.
|3 yr||3 yr||HOU||10||10||2-8-0||182||330||55.2||2195||11||3.3||8||2.4||66||6.7||6.2||12.1||219.5||76.8||22||216||5.62||5.22||6.3||1||1||5|
|3 yr||3 yr||STL-LAR||16||14||7-7-0||272||447||60.9||3029||13||2.9||12||2.7||65||6.8||6.1||11.1||189.3||79.5||27||168||6.04||5.45||5.7||1||2||5|
|1 yr||1 yr||DEN||16||16||6-10-0||365||586||62.3||3890||18||3.1||15||2.6||64||6.6||6.1||10.7||243.1||81.2||34||235||5.90||5.39||5.5||3||4||9|
|1 yr||1 yr||MIN||15||14||11-3-0||325||481||67.6||3547||22||4.6||7||1.5||65||7.4||7.6||10.9||236.5||98.3||22||136||6.78||7.03||4.4||1||3||14|
Draft pick Dwayne Haskins has only one year as a starter in college. However he performed very well in that one year. He was first in passing yards, 10+ yard passing plays and passing touchdowns. Here is a table to show how his stats compared to other drafted quarterbacks. Haskins is in bold. In addition the the standard stats there are ones for 3rd down conversion percent, red zone touchdown percent and big play percent. Averages for the drafted quarterbacks are shown at the bottom for most stats and players above the average are highlighted in yellow. AT the end is a sum of stats the player was above the average.
|ROUND||Pick||Team||First name||Last Name||School||Ht||Wt||2018 games||Pct||Pass Yds||pass yds/game||Pass yds/Att||Tds||tds/game||Int||TD/Int||Rate||Rush Yds||Rush yds/game||Rush Avg||Rush Tds||pass att 3rd||rush att 3rd||pass made 3rd||rush made 3rd||pass 3rd||rush 3rd||3rd down %||dev 3rd down||RZ Pass Att||RZ Rush Att||RZ Pass TD||RZ rush TD||pass td||rush td||RZ TD %||dev RZ TD||All Pass||All Rush||Big Pass||Big Rush||pass BP||rush BP||Big Play %||BP dev||sum above Avg||Sum Std Dev|
Provided by NFCBeast.com
With the receivers the Redskins lost Jamison Crowder in free agency. They drafted Terry McLaurin of Ohio State in the third round and Kelvin Harmon of NC State in the sixth round. Harmon made my list of the top five toughest receivers available in the 2019 draft. He had 1000+ receiving yards, 14+ yards per reception and 4+ receiving touchdowns in each of his last two seasons at NC State. McLaurin was fifth among receivers in the forty (4.35 s) at the combine. An intriguing undrafted free agent signing is receiver Steven Sims of Kansas. Sims had a 29.8% team market share of receiving yards in 2016. That same year his 7 receiving touchdowns was 44% of the team’s receiving touchdowns. He was a four year starter at Kansas where he started in 30 games.
31 Jacksonville Jaguars
2017 – Rank: 13, Yards/Att: 6.8
2018 – Rank: 30, Yards/Att: 5.8
Quarterback Blake Bortles had a bad year in 2018 on the Jaguars. He was benched in week 13 to give Cody Kessler a shot. Bortles came back to start in the season finale. Bortles 79.8 passer rating in 2018 was 31st among the 34 quarterbacks that started at least 7 games. The three quarterbacks with a lower rating were 3 of the 4 rookie quarterbacks. Lamar Jackson was the sole rookie with the higher rating.
The Jaguars offensive line was 30th in sacks allowed (53) and also in quarterbacks hits allowed (111). Their line was hurt by injuries. Only one week one starter on the line finished the season.
Jacksonville had 3 receivers that started 8 or more games. On the list of starting receivers (8 or more games) of the 71 receivers the Jacksonville receivers were 46, 53 and 54th on the list in receiving yards per target. Two of there top three receivers have catch percentages under 55% and their round two draft pick in 2018, DJ Chark, has a catch percentage of 44%.
Looking to improve in 2019 the Jaguars signed Eagles backup quarterback Nick Foles and released Blake Bortles. Foles is entering his eighth season after being selected in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft. Foles had a Pro Bowl season in 2013, was extremely efficient in his post season 2017 Super Bowl run and had a good five regular season games in 2018. In regular season games over the last 2-5 seasons Foles has ranked in the bottom 10-29% of starting quarterbacks in yards per pass attempts. It will be interesting to see how he does in a full season.
In the draft the Jaguars selected OT Jawaan Taylor of Florida in the second round. He was projected by nfl.com to be a round one selection. He excels as a run blocker. Pro Football Focus reports that he only gave up one sack last year and ten pressures.
They picked up undrafted free agent guard Bunchy Stallings. Stallings was SEC All Conference First Team in 2018. He was selected as an All American by the Associate Press and by the Athletic. Stallings was responsible for only one-half quarterback sack all year. He totaled 170 blocks at the point of attack and had 55 knockdown blocks. Stallings is said to be a mauler in the run game and helped contribute to running back Benny Snell breaking 1,000 yards rushing each of the last three seasons. Stallings was selected to the ESPN 2018 mid-season All-America team and they had this to say – “He has been a road-grader for the Wildcats. ”
For receiver weapons they picked tight end Josh Oliver in the second round. Oliver had 56 receptions last year which was second most among tight ends. He had a 22.6% receiving yards team market share where a 15% or better is considered good for a tight end. He had 81% of his 3rd down receptions result in a first down. Of his total 56 receptions 67.9% went for first down. While not the best percents in this strong tight end class they are still pretty good.
They did not draft a receiver but did pick up two intriguing undrafted free agents. Papi White of Ohio had a 36.5% receiving yards team market share. White is one of only two players that had 15+ Receiving Yards Per Reception, 3+ Receiving Touchdowns and 600+ Receiving Yards in each of the last three seasons.
The other undrafted free agent is Tyree Brady of Marshall. He is sixth in FBS career receptions per game among active players (5.54 receptions). Brady has achieved over a 30% team market share receiving yards each of the last two years. Brady is one of only eleven receivers that over the last two seasons had 1900+ receiving yards and 17+ receiving touchdowns.
32 Detroit Lions
2017 – Rank: 7, Yds/Att: 7.3
2018 – Rank: 26, Yds/Att: 6.2
You have to go back to 2012 for an equivalent or lower yards per attempt by quarterback Mathew Stafford. That is how far back you also have to go to get a worse record than their 2018 record of 6-10. Detroit on this list is a kind of enigma. Stafford had the second best completion percentage (66.1%) of his career. The offensive line of Detroit was 18th in sacks allowed and 13th in QB hits allowed. The Lions did trade receiver Golden Tate to the Eagles in week 8. Tate was on track to be the lead receiver (517 yards) and he wound up with the best catch % of the top three receivers (63.8%). However on a list of the 71 receivers that started 8 or more games in 2018 sorted by decreasing receiving yards per target, the Lions have two in the list- Kenny Golladay at 22 and Marvin Jones at 33. Only 8 other teams had two receivers higher than 33. Why the Lions wound up with the worst drop in ranking of passing yards per attempt is hard to understand.
Looking into 2019 the Lions should bounce back just based on 2018 being an anomaly. However in addition to that they added some nice players to see a big jump.
Danny Amendola (WR free agent, MIA) – Over the last 4 seasons in each season he has had a 70+% catch rate and 7.3 to 8.4 yards/target.
Jesse James (TE free agent, PIT) – In 2018 had 423 yards, 76.9% catch rate, 10.8 yards/target and 14.1 yards/rec.
TJ Hockenson (TE Round 1 draft) – One of my 5 toughest tight ends in the draft. Hockenson participated in all seven combine events and scored within tight end target goals on six of the seven. Only one other tight end had that achievement (Foster Moreau). Hockenson had the most 30+ yard receptions (8) among all tight ends. Hockenson won the 2018 John Mackey Award given to college football’s most outstanding tight end.
Travis Fulgham (WR Round 6 draft) – One of only four draft prospects that had 1000+ yards receiving and averaged 17+ yards per reception in 2018. He had a whopping 76% of his receptions go for a first down. He also had a receiving touchdown in each of his nine last games.
Isaac Nauta (TE Round 7 draft) – Another one of my 5 toughest tight ends.
Donald Parham (TE UDFA) – had staggering market share numbers that would be great for a wide receiver and are unheard of for a tight end. In 2018 he had 85 receptions (36%), 1,319 yards (41%) and 13 touchdowns (46%). Parham has a 36″ vertical jump which would have been tied for third among tight ends at last year’s combine. That jump combined with a 6’8″ height and being a former basketball player makes for a nice red zone target.
Beau Benzschawel (OL UDFA) – One of only seven offensive line draft prospects to make all conference first team the last two seasons. On rushing plays the Badgers averaged 7.5 yards per attempt when running to Beau’s gap. Beau has played in 49 games and made 49 consecutive starts on what is regarded as one of the top offensive lines in the nation (Wisconsin).
There you have the three most improved and three most declined teams in 2018 for yards per passing attempt. It is quite a coincidence that the top three wound up ranking consecutively in the middle of the pack. The yards per attempt data was obtained from teamrankings.com. The yards per attempt are for the team and it subtracts yards lost to sacks from the total yardage.
You can download the rankings for all teams here – Yards Per Pass Attempt. One table is sorted by change form 2017 to 2018. The other table is sorted by team ran for 2018.