You love Reception Perception, I love Reception Perception, we all love Reception Perception. But a question we get a lot here at RP is “Okay great… so uh… how do I use this data?”
Well one of the mantras here at RP is that we tell you who is good before they’re good. It’s fair to say that Matt Harmon has uncovered value receivers almost as well as Stefon Diggs uncovers himself from DB’s.
Speaking of which, Harmon told y’all Diggs was nasty nasty back in 2017 when he posted a 78.7 percent success rate vs. man coverage which is still a top-11 score. That particular year Diggs had just 849 yards so he was far from a sure thing. We know how Diggs turned out.
And as you guys know, Diggs is just one of the numerous players RP has been bullish on way before the rest of the football world piled on. Think 2014 Allen Robinson before his monster 1,400-yard season. Or Tyler Lockett going from 555 yards and 2 scores in 2017 to 965 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2018. The list goes on.
But are these random one-off anecdotal hits or is there a trend whose wave we can ride?
As I texted Matt after researching this, “Good news bud, your data doesn’t suck!”
Note: If you’re new to Reception Perception, this introduction/methodology article will help you understand some of the exclusive metrics referenced and explain Matt Harmon’s process overall.
Success Rate vs Man Coverage is IMPORTANT!
I’m going to focus on success rate vs. man coverage, a metric Harmon himself has said is one of the most important stats he uses to determine how good a guy is. And even though he tracks success rates on literally every route a receiver will run, it makes sense that success rate vs. man is a good mental shortcut right? If a guy is getting open versus man coverage on the reg, that encompasses a variety of routes. You won’t find this information in any other fantasy football draft kit.
There will be exceptions to this, no doubt, there always is. For example, it’s a lot tougher to uncover on nine routes than slants. Anything downfield and vertical is tougher to “win” than something underneath and lateral.
All that being said, guess what… success rate vs. man is a very strong indicator of not only current success but FUTURE success as well. As it turns out, good players stay good, and generally speaking, bad players stay bad. Shocking, I know.
You can parse through the findings yourselves but while it’s not a perfect line, it’s clear there seems to be an awfully strong correlation with success rate versus man coverage and production. And keep in mind this data has been compiled since 2014 with more than 300 players charted.
Players in the top 10th percentile vs man on average have been snatching 6.59 receptions per game resulting in 83.02 receiving yards per game in the season they were charted. That’s really, really good.
It’s no surprise that if a guy is getting free he would produce in the current year he is charted. The same goes with the guy who is constantly mired in man coverage and struggles to produce. But what I found to be pretty interesting is that these same players then continued to produce in a similar fashion the next year. What that tells me is these success rates are relatively sticky meaning you can reasonably trust that the success rate will hold up.
At this point you’re like cool, cool, success rate vs man is the ish… NOW TELL ME WHO I SHOULD CARE ABOUT.
Load up on A-Rob and F1 Shares
Well first, if you want to follow along feel free to open our sortable data tables in a new window to see who dominated and who struggled vs man coverage in 2020.
These guys have been cornerback killers for years but now each is paired with potentially huge upgrades at quarterback. Even with their current ADPs in the third round of most fantasy drafts, either or both could finish as top-five receivers in 2021.
Wentz’s Future Favorite Receiver
I absolutely loved what I saw from Michael Pittman last year. A 6-4, 223-pound fighter, Pittman slowly developed into a rock-solid contributor for the Colts. And let’s be real, his ability to be tough at the catch point was much needed for dead-arm Philip Rivers.
So I was already stupid high on Pittman coming into 2021 but when I saw that Harmon charted him and the numbers came back as they did? *Chef’s kiss*
Pittman’s 71.6 percent success rate vs man was north of the 65th percentile which if you’re looking at the table above doesn’t sound all that impressive.
And remember how I said these success rates are relatively sticky year to year? That’s generally true except when it comes to rookies who obviously have a largely unknown growth arc.
Let’s play a game of guess the player (both rookies):
Player A: 6’4”, 223 pounds, 4.52 40-time, 71.6 percent success rate vs man, 503 yards, 91 percent success rate on slants, 60.7 percent success rate on nines
Player B – 6’3”, 220 pounds, 4.60 40-time, 71.7 percent success rate vs man, 548 yards, 80 percent success rate on slants, 45.3 percent success rate on nines
You already guessed that Player A is Michael Pittman. Player B? Allen Robinson as a rookie, the year before he went off for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns.
You can get Pittman in the 9th round folks. Do it.
March to 1,100 (OR 1,200)
If we’re staying on brand and telling you about who is good before they’re good, let’s focus on a trio of 2020 rookies.
Brandon Aiyuk posted a 75.7 percent success rate vs man (north of 80th percentile) as a first-year player and indicates he could easily beat out his 6th round ADP.
Look I get it the Niners aren’t going to flood you with pass attempts (just 16th in pass attempts in 2020) but Aiyuk is far and away the best pass-catching option they have there in the Bay. Deebo Samuel is an explosive after-catch player but has a long way to go as a technical route runner. George Kittle is certainly a target sponge when healthy (7.7 targets per game over his career) but modern offenses are not designed to run through the tight end spot.
Aiyuk can win everywhere and will be an easy favorite for either Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance. For my longtime, old-school fans, Aiyuk is my March to 1,100 guy this year; a player who posted sub-900 yards but could pop off for more than 1,100 this year. With just 748 yards in 11 games last year, Aiyuk fits that bill. I think he easily crosses the 1,100 threshold this year based on his Reception Perception scores and anticipated volume. Although I guess with that extra game, we really should be talking about March to 1200… but whatever you know what I’m saying here, Aiyuk is going to ball out.
Jeudy Bounceback SZN
Everything leading up to the ball actually arriving in Jerry Jeudy’s hands was spectacular for the Mile High rookie as Jeudy scored a 75 percent success rate vs man which was easily in the top 20th percentile.
Here’s the thing, I would describe Jeudy’s footwork as jittery, and that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, I would also describe his hands as jittery. That’s a bad thing. His 46 percent catch rate last year was shockingly bad.
Some of it was the quarterback for sure, Drew Lock was one of the two or three worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL last year no matter what set of metrics you want to look at. But a lot of the drops were squarely on Jeudy. And there were a lot of them.
Here’s the thing, we’ve seen a bunch of receivers battle the case of the dropsies at different points in their careers only for it never to impact them again. Let’s hope that’s the case with Jeudy because the success rate vs man score he just put up as a rookie is tantalizing.
You throw in the possibility that Teddy Check-water wins out the starting job and soft tosses more accurate balls to Jeudy, I easily see him decimating his current 9th round ADP.
Ceedee Lamb and Chase Claypool both scored incredibly well for rookies versus man coverage (72.5 and 71.3 percent success rates respectively) and are primed for good to great sophomore campaigns. But they’re also going really early in drafts.
Lamb is a late third/early fourth-round pick currently. You have to think he supplants Amari Cooper as the primary pass-catcher for that pick to pay off. It could happen but his upside seems to be baked into his current ADP.
Claypool is a much better value in the late 6th/early 7th round but I am terrified of Ben Roethlisberger, who is aging faster than the guy who chose poorly in that Indiana Jones movie.
The Steelers inexplicably ignored the quarterback position again this year, failing to draft a signal-caller and only adding the dreadful Dwayne Haskins in free agency. If Ben can cobble together a full-ish season, Claypool and of course Diontae Johnson should have fantastic years, if not… yikes.
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