Previously, in Part I of the “Simply Smurfs? Sizing up the Colts WR’s” series, we had looked at the Top 3 wideouts of each NFL team (ranked based on each player’s total receiving yards) as a three-man unit, and whether there was any direct correlation between each unit’s height and scoring ability (i.e. Red Zone Success %). What we ultimately concluded was that as a 3-man unit, the results were largely inconclusive.
However, we have also acknowledged the fact that because it is a 3-man unit, the results could be slightly skewed. For instance, the Broncos’ Demaryius Thomas is 6’3″ and was the NFL’s leader in touchdowns during 2013, catching 14 TD’s on the year. However, if you were to pair him with his teammate as part of a calculated 3-man height average, Wes Welker, listed at 5’9″, you will significantly diminish the average height of this 3-man unit (also including Eric Decker). It’s discounting the fact that Demaryius Thomas is pretty tall for NFL Wide Receiver standards because Wes Welker, while effective in the red zone himself, happens to be abnormally short.
As mentioned in Part I, one of the running popular theories among NFL observers is that taller, bigger receivers tend to fare better in the red zone. Simply put, they’re better at scoring touchdowns, where their size and strength are more advantageous in positioning (blocking out) to go up and make the catch. In the red zone, space is limited, so the shiftiness and speed for separation of smaller receivers isn’t as much of an advantage as it is in other areas of the field. These diminutive receivers are “played physical” within 5-yards of the line of scrimmage, and space is at a premium, so it’s not as easy to gain separation from opposing defensive backs.
In order to investigate further into this “size vs. scoring ability” debate, we analyzed the Top 10 Touchdown Leaders among Wide Receivers in 2013 on an individual basis, calculating their Red Zone Success %, height, and weight respectively. From this, we calculated an average of the Top 10 WR Touchdown leaders in the aforementioned 3 criteria. For informational purposes, we also included the average of the Top 5 WR’s criteria.
Surprisingly, we found that the Top 5 WR’s had a lower average RZ success % at 55.1% compared to 61.0% of the Top 10 WR’s (-5.9% difference). On the other hand, the Top 5 WR’s were almost an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier on average. A big reason as to why is because of the aforementioned Wes Welker, who at 5’9″ and 185, brings down the average in size for the Top 10 and serves as a significant outlier.
Okay, okay, so you’re probably looking at this calculated data, and while also saying “Nerd!”, you’re probably thinking, “Outside Wes Welker, all of the other WR’s are pretty big on paper for NFL wideout standards. Maybe BIGGER is truly BETTER.”
Looking objectively at the data, it certainly appears this way. From our previous data of each team’s 3-man unit, we have now calculated the average height of an NFL receiver (based on the height of every team’s Top 3 receiving yard leaders in 2013). This excludes a team’s 4th and 5th Wide Receiver on the depth chart, but for analysis purposes, these players are often diminutive special teams’ return men or gadget players anyways, and thus, we believe our calculated 3-Wideout average is roughly an accurate reflection of today’s average NFL receiver in size.
Right, so how do the Colts fare exactly in 2014? Well folks, just remember, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.” Yet, one can’t help but notice that the 2014 Colts’ receivers are smaller when compared to the average of the Top 10 NFL touchdown leaders in 2013.
Our biggest receivers are second-year pro Da’Rick Rogers (6’3″, 208 lbs) and rookie Donte Moncrief (6’2″, 221 lbs). Rogers had a very successful Red Zone % at 66% in 2013, but keep in mind, it was a small sample size, as QB Andrew Luck successfully connected with him 2 out of 3 attempts. It does show though that rookie wideout, Donte Moncrief, has the potential to be a strong red zone option for Luck in 2014 with his big size.
It also sheds further light on just how disappointing new-Colt, Hakeem Nicks’ last year was with the New York Giants. In 11 attempts, he only was able to successfully connect with Giants’ QB Eli Manning just once in the red zone at 9.1% and had 0 TD’s. He’s the biggest receiver of the Colts projected Top 3 receivers on the depth chart, also including Hilton and Wayne.
Therefore, it’s imperative that he use his additional size to his advantage in the red zone, where our other primary wide receiver options aren’t quite as big and strong. If he’s still struggling getting separation in 2014 and unsuccessfully converting red zone attempts, it wouldn’t surprise me to see either Rogers or Moncrief get some of his reps in the red zone, as purely situational scoring specialists.
Nevertheless, the Colts’ Hilton and Wayne, while smaller in stature, are still elite receiving options for NFL standards. Yes, their size isn’t as advantageous in the red zone compared to some of their more physically imposing NFL counterparts, but they have proven to be reliable in the red zone, and both will be leaned on heavily again in 2014.
The fact of the matter is, you can’t worry about scoring in the red zone, if you never can advance the ball far enough to get to the red zone. While players like Hilton and Wayne won’t necessarily dominate in the red zone with imposing physical size, you can ride their backs and they’ll carry you for the ~60 yards it takes to even be in red zone consideration. Their speed, route running, and reliable hands translate to whatever part of the field they’re in regardless.
Besides, while the data supported the notion that generally bigger is better when it comes to scoring, it should also be noted that T.Y. Hilton (5’9″, 178 lbs, 50%, had a better Red Zone Success % than both Calvin “Megatron” Johnson (6’5″, 236 lbs, 43.5%) and A.J. Green (6’4″, 207 lbs, 42.9%), each of whom is considered the cream of the crop among NFL receivers that goes hand-in-hand with their imposing physical size and ability. So while it certainly helps, being bigger isn’t everything, as the diminutive, yet electrifying T.Y. Hilton disproves this notion.
Reggie Wayne at 42.9% RZ Success % was in the same stratosphere as both Calvin Johnson and A.J. Green, so it doesn’t seem to me that Colts’ fans should be worried too much about the Colts’ receiver size when the offense enters the red zone.
As mentioned, good receivers are good receivers wherever they are on the football field. While the Colts may not have the big red zone targets and the corresponding advantages that other offenses may have in the red zone with imposing size, they have some proven and reliable NFL receivers, who have made big catches throughout their NFL careers. If QB Andrew Luck throws a good ball, odds are that these guys will make the catch.
If it truly becomes a problem, as previously mentioned, maybe the Colts will utilize both Da’Rick Rogers and Donte Moncrief in the red zone situationally to give Luck some bigger targets and better “jump ball” options. My guess; however, is that it will never come to this. Hilton, Wayne, and Nicks have shown throughout their careers that they can not only make the catch, but they’ve undoubtedly made plays throughout their NFL careers. Call them smurfs, but the more accurate term is “playmakers”, as they always seem to leave opposing defensive backs blue in the face.