In the first segment of this series, we will look at the height of the Indianapolis Colts’ wide receivers, as well as the rest of the NFL’s wideouts, in order to see if there is any direct correlation between height and red zone scoring efficiency, a clear indicator of scoring ability.
Two summers ago, in August of 2012, WR Reggie Wayne, the unquestioned veteran voice of the Colts’ wideouts made the following comments about the team’s young receiving corps:
“It makes me want to pick up my speed a little bit. It makes it all fun. I try to see who’s the Mike Wallace of this offense. Guys are just out here acting like the Olympics, running as fast as they could. They’re all Smurfs. I thought once they put on pads, they’d get bigger, but they’re still Smurfs. Not only are they Smurfs, but when they get the ball, they’re dangerous with it.”
While being fast and elusive are quality traits for any wide receiver, are the Colts’ receivers collectively too short? By going with the aforementioned qualities, are they compromising size and strength and diminishing their overall red zone scoring ability? Do the Colts’ need to become more like “Sasquatch” and and less “Smurf-like” for scoring purposes?
One of the more popular viewpoints in professional football is that bigger receivers tend to fare better around the goal line for scoring purposes. The idea is that these bigger receivers are better able to use their size and strength to position themselves and “get the football” in limited space. Think of it as a basketball player boxing out to get a rebound, you tend to want the biggest and strongest big man that can also explosively leap. Its proponents will argue that once an offense gets to the 20-yard line, getting separation is no longer as important of a quality in the limited remaining space. Instead, the ability to simply out-muscle the defender and catch the football is viewed as key.
For the purposes of this analysis, we calculated the average height for each team’s 2013 “Top 3 receivers” based on total receiving yards. Then, we ranked these accordingly in regards to all 32 NFL teams. Next, we calculated the aforementioned “Top 3 receivers” Red Zone Success Percentage (RZ%) by looking at each trio’s total red zone targets and dividing it by their total receptions. These were subsequently ranked based on their standing among all 32 NFL teams. Lastly, we included each team’s 2013 Overall Red Zone Success Percentage, taking into account both run and pass, purely for informational purposes. See our calculations below:
From our research, my initial impression is that at least collectively as a unit, there is no direct correlation between height and red zone efficiency. The NFL’s tallest receiving trio in 2013, the Detroit Lions at 6’3″, were only ranked 16th in red zone efficiency. This is a receiving trio that features Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, one of the most physically dominating receivers in the NFL, as well as the towering 6’6″ WR, Kris Dunham.
While some of their diminished efficiency could be attributed to Quarterback ability in the red zone and simply the inability to put receivers in the best position to make a successful catch, one has to think that in this particular instance, Lions’ QB Matt Stafford is one of the better QB’s in the NFL. This isn’t QB Brandon Weeden we’re talking about folks. While Stafford has proven to be inconsistent from time to time, I don’t think he’s the game-changing variable here.
Nevertheless, most esteemed statisticians will tell you that a sample size of 1 isn’t the most accurate sample size and generally isn’t reflective of the population as a whole, so we’ll look at some of the remaining tallest teams that round out the Top 5. The Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Bucs are both tied for second place. The Bengals feature NFL young receiving star A.J. Green (6’4″), who’s complimented by big possession receivers like 3rd-year pro’s Marvin Jones (6’2″) and Mohamed Sanu (6’2″). But wait! The Bengals come in at 6th in Top 3 WR’s Red Zone Efficiency, so maybe “bigger is truly better”? Not so fast. The 2013 Bucs’ receiving trio anchored by WR Vincent Jackson, a perennial big red zone target at 6’5″, only has a Top 3 WR’s Red Zone Efficiency ranking of 22. It looks like we just took one step forward in the Bengals to take two steps back from the Bucs.
Very well then, but what if we attack this from the other side? Who was the #1 2013 Receiving Trio in Red Zone Efficiency? Drum roll please, you guessed it….the Tennessee Titans, wait probably not. This unheralded trio is comprised of Kendall Wright (5’10”), Nate Washington (6’1″), and Justin Hunter (6’4″); effectively placing them as tied for 10th in height for our rankings. Not horribly off, but not enough to convince me that height is a primary determinant of red zone efficiency. It also quickly dismisses any notion that poor QB play can directly throw off the positive correlation that height has with red zone efficiency, as the starting QB tandem of Ryan Fitzpatrick (9 games) and Jake Locker (7 games) isn’t exactly much more than average at the position, generously, at best.
The second-best Receiving Trio in 2013 for Red Zone Efficiency was the Kansas City Chiefs. This diminutive trio of Dwayne Bowe (6’2″), Donnie Avery (5’11), and Dexter McCluster (5’8″) was tied for 29th in our height rankings. If there was a shroud of hope for the “bigger is better” crowd, the Chiefs’ “David” just took a shot at their plodding “Goliath”.
Okay, but for “kicks and giggles”, who’s 3rd? That would be none other than one of the historically best offenses of all-time, the 2013 Denver Broncos. This all-around offensive juggernaut featured a talented trio of receivers of Demaryius Thomas (6’3″), Eric Decker (6’3″), and Wes Welker (5’9); oh, and they also are led by one of the greatest quarterbacks ever in QB Peyton Manning. This one truly comes as no surprise, as the Denver Broncos were nearly Top 5 in every significant offensive category I’ve previously analyzed.
But what about the 2014 Colts? Well, they’re smurfs. In fact, they’re even shorter than last season, when you trade now Ex-Colt WR Darrius Heyward-Bey for freshly signed WR Hakeem Nicks. If last year is any indication, 5’11” and 1/3 in, will put them right where the 2013 Carolina Panthers were, at 28th. Fortunately for our boys in blue, it doesn’t appear that height has any real bearing on red zone efficiency. Consequently, for these smurfs, being short in stature, should have no direct correlation with their scoring success in 2014.