The Value of Things: Bang for the Buck

It’s safe to say that most NFL teams go through cycles. These cycles can last three or four seasons more or less. Much depends on who gets paid and if they deserve the money they receive. Nick Caserio’s main job was to get the right value for Deshaun Watson in a trade. So far, this trade looks like a home run. The toughest job is getting the Texans payroll back in line.

This is where we jump from yesterday’s post and offer two routes the team could take. A route would have the CEO flying by the seat of his pants and would be transactional in nature. This way, he simply takes advantage of opportunities as they arise. Whenever it sees a good value, it jumps. In yesterday’s terms, it would be a trade for Deebo Samuel or DK Metcalf. It could also have been about trading for Baker Mayfield. A number of general managers in all major sports operate this way. The final verdict depends on how often they are able to take advantage of the situation.

The second route asks the CEO to develop a long-term plan. Then they follow that long-term plan to the letter. That seems to be Caserio’s tactic. The first part of his plan was to clear as much dead money as possible. This means that 2022 will be another difficult season. However, he is now on the verge of having an equity draft and a free agent spending dollars beyond the 2022 season.

In this miniseries, we’ll take a look at key positions and the top ten paid players in those positions. We’ll likely discover a standard in each location and eventually see which teams really get their money’s worth. It could also help explain why teams struggle as much as they do.

The ten best wide receivers

The first thing we need to do is establish what we are looking for. Simply grading wide receivers on catches, yards, and touchdowns seems crude. Different offenses work differently and some teams have a better target group. Ideally, you want a guy who catches more balls when targeted or can at least serve as a target in the field if not. We also want receivers that are better targets in the red zone. There are few perfect ways to gauge this, so simple touchdown receptions will suffice for now. The figures below relate to the last three seasons.

Tyreek Hill – 383 targets, 256 catches, 66.8 percent, 3,375 yards, 13.2 YPC, 31 TDs

Davante Adams – 445 targets, 321 catches, 72.1 percent, 3,924 yards, 12.2 YPC, 34 TDs

Deandre Hopkins – 374 targets, 261 catches, 69.6 percent, 3,144 yards, 12.0 YPC, 21 TDs

Cooper Kupp – 449 targets, 331 catches, 73.7 percent, 4,082 yards, 12.3 YPC, 29 TDs

AJ Brown – 295 targets, 185 catches, 62.7 percent, 2,995 yards, 16.2 YPC, 24 TDs

Stephon Diggs – 424 targets, 261 catches, 66.7 percent, 3,890 yards, 13.7 YPC, 24 TDs

DJ Moore – 416 targets, 246 catches, 59.1 percent, 3,525 yards, 14.3 YPC, 12 TDs

Keenan Allen – 453 targets, 310 catches, 68.4 percent, 3,329 yards, 10.7 YPC, 20 TDs

Mike Williams – 304 targets, 173 catches, 56.9 percent, 2,903 yards, 16.8 YPC, 16 TDs

Amari Cooper – 353 targets, 239 catches, 67.7 percent, 3,168 yards, 13.3 YPC, 21 TDs

These are the top ten paid wide receivers in order. Naturally, a lot of them got paid this offseason, so we can’t necessarily say they were overpaid when they actually put those numbers in place. However, we might be able to predict the success or failure of their particular teams based on whether or not they hit particular stat markers. For example, when we focus on the percentage of targets that end in strikes, yards per strike, and touchdowns, we notice a few things.

Seven of the ten recipients have success rates of 66% or more. There’s a pretty steep drop in success rate from 66.7% for Stephon Diggs and 62.7% for AJ Brown. Of course, he is part of a new team, so it remains to be seen how he will be used and if those numbers improve. Additionally, he was a positive outlier in yards per reception at 16.2.

The overall outliers were DJ Moore of the Panthers and Mike Williams of the Chargers. The Chargers are also an outlier in that they have two wide receivers on this list. Neither team made the playoffs last season. It’s not even that either guy was necessarily the reason for his team’s failure. The Panthers are going with their fourth or fifth starting quarterback this season since first letting Cam Newton go. Williams is still averaging nearly 60 catches and 1,000 yards per season over the past three years. The question is whether this is the right allocation of resources.

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Brandin Cooks is officially the 12th highest paid receiver in the NFL. The question is whether he belongs to this group. Ironically, his last three seasons are a mirror image of DeAndre Hopkins’ last three seasons. That’s also part of the reason we’re going back three years. Availability is a skill and he lost nearly half of the 2019 season to concussions. The numbers compared to others are below.

325 targets, 213 catches, 65.5 percent, 2,770 yards, 13.0 YPC, 14 TDs

He clearly falls a notch below the other guys, but he’s pretty close in yards per strike and percentage of targets he catches. The group above averaged nearly 390 targets, 258 captures, 66.3%. 3,434 yards and 23 touchdowns. He obviously falls well below total catches, yards and touchdowns.

Naturally, there are a number of reasons why Cooks falls short. The same could be said for AJ Brown, DJ Moore and Mike Williams. It’s not so much about who is actually the best wide receiver in the sport. There are so many factors that impact these numbers that have nothing to do with the receivers themselves. However, that doesn’t change the fact that if you pay someone, you expect them to produce. Something tells me the Eagles, Chargers and Panthers will struggle to get what they hope to get. Meanwhile, the Texans are paying Cooks about what he should be paid.