Eckert Reviews: Rookie WR 2021 3rd Down Production Study
Continuing the series, I wanted to review and provide more context with situational football for their final season post using Sports Info Solutions (SIS). Similar to the red zone study, I focus on players selected in the 2022 NFL Draft on third down, and a few players were excluded because the SIS does not track players from smaller schools. This time around I will also be grabbing players with larger samples. The focus for today is to see how Calvin Austin III compared to his peers last season, while continuing to focus for the next article with George Pickens included when he saw more action in the 2020 season.
First, let’s look at the timeliness with the number of routes flown and the goals on the third try:
Overall interesting results, especially seeing the number of third games for some teams like Alabama, and similar to the red zone study John Metchie (Texans) getting more targets than Jameson Williams (Lions) again in situational football given their more comparable total goals.
Austin III drove 92 routes and was targeted 24 times, which was close to average in both stats across the 19 players on the chart. This initial view shows a slightly lower than average number of opportunities compared to its peers, important context as we continue with the data.
Let’s dig deeper with completion percentage and target catch percentage (total catches/number of catchable targets) which highlights totality and performance on quality targets:
Players on the far right have made the most of their situation on the money, and it’s interesting to note that all but two players have overall completion percentages above 60%.
One of those players is Austin III, who had noticeably the worst results in both data points. The particularly disheartening number is for target catch percentage, but interestingly the SIS hasn’t listed it for declines. An example of such a play for context was against Houston when he was targeted in the end zone but was tripped, so while the pass was on target he was unable to make a play on the ball.
Low target capture percentage is a recurring theme in every article I’ve written in the series, with the only exception being 2020 in the red zone. It will be interesting to see what Austin III’s third production of 2020 looks like in the next article, given the big difference the red-zone data has shown with different quarterbacks at the helm each season.
Here is a view similar to the first study, displaying the percentage of airyards completed by wide receivers (%CAY = airyards completed / airyards planned) to get a context of opportunity and connectivity as well as a and yards after catch percentage (% YAC = yards after catch / total yards) to see what wide receivers created once the ball was in their hands. It gives us great context of what players provided to their team and how they were used, as well as seeing who fared better in drive-extend situations in their last season :
Austin III was well below average with the fourth-lowest result in CAY%, and only 40% of planned airyards were completed. He had an above average ranking and 6th in % YAC, providing just over 50% of his third yardage in this regard. A particularly notable example of this YAC value came early in the game against Arkansas State on third-and-fifth, executing a short drag route on a shallow crossover concept and missing a catch-point guy on the touchdown from 55 yards.
Continuing with more important factors mentioned on this game, here are the wide receivers first down percentages (percentage of receptions where the receiver made a first down) as well as broken + missed tackles per reception, a fun and revealing data point . The goal here is to see who made sure the chains moved plays and which players showed the ability to miss the guys:
In Austin III’s third receptions, he provided first downs on over 90% of them, which ranked second to Williams who had a perfect percentage. It’s an encouraging backdrop, and if given the opportunity with the Steelers in his rookie season, hopefully we can see some of that value with an improved completion rate given he only caught than 11 of his 24 targets. He also lands in the middle tier of tackles broken + tackles missed percentage, with the previously mentioned play being a prime example.
Let’s take a closer look at wide receiver usage with average depth to target (average distance traveled by target shots, excluding spikes and rejects) and average depth of completion:
Williams “breaks” this chart with extremely high numbers in both data points, which are staggering compared to his peers and highlight quality over quantity compared to Metchie.
Austin III sits above average in both data points, with a particularly healthy ADOT number of 11.9 that ranks third with its fourth-rated ADOC landing at 9.9. These numbers provide more context to his first down percentage, considering his ADOC is ideal for the majority of down and distance situations, and his YAC% on top of that providing a high conversion rate on his receptions for Memphis La last season. Two examples of films came in the Arkansas State game, one running in front and stacking the defensive back on third and 15 showing his speed for the downfield catch on a 37-yard gain, and a another where he made the catch on a post road on third-and-nine against tight trail coverage beyond the sticks and tackled at the catch spot on the first down.
Finally, I wanted to provide a view of total value using points earned per route (a player’s total EPA liability on routes run using the total points system which distributes credit among all players on the pitch for a given play Totals are scaled up to equals the average points scored or allowed at a team level, with the number of player snaps determining the level of adjustment. , this includes consideration of offensive line play, off-target passes, dropped passes and broken tackles. Values are modulated using a competition grade multiplier based on each opponent’s previous performance year) and the EPA per target (the total change in expected points of offense that came from passes thrown at the player):
Williams comfortably tops the chart, followed by above-average results in both data points from Metchie, Purdue’s David Bell (Browns), Arkansas’ Treylon Burks (Titans), Danny Gray (49ers) of SMU, Ohio State’s Chris Olave (Saints) and Boise State’s Khalil Shakir (Bills) with third-grade production and point sizes emphasizing quantity.
Austin III landed below average in both data points with the third-lowest result in points earned per route (although closer to its peers than the bottom two) with a better result in EPA per target close to the average. Its lowest ratings were completion and target capture percentage, CAY%, and points earned per route. He was close to average in routes walked, targets, tackles broken and missed and EPA per target, and had the best first down percentage, YAC%, ADOT and ADOC. Both film and stats highlight its encouraging abilities, with the main concern being catch rates. It will be interesting to see what the 2020 stats look like for Pickens and Austin III, and how the latter’s results look compared to last season.
Throughout the rest of the offseason, I’ll be diving deeper into the data as we continue to learn more about the new Pittsburgh Steelers. How do you think Calvin Austin III will fare in his rookie year? Do you think he might be a factor on the third down? What are some of your takeaways in the league? Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments!