Cleveland Browns secondary receivers numbers declined in 2019
The Cleveland Browns offense was a one-dimensional unit in 2019, and the impact of the role players was greatly diminished.
Several of Baker Mayfield‘s receiving targets were with the team in both 2018 and 2019, and the numbers say what many observers have reported based on the eyeball test. Mayfield continued to throw the ball to Jarvis Landry and use Nick Chubb as an outlet receiver, but each of the Cleveland Browns secondary receivers put up weaker numbers in 2019 than they had in 2018.
Stats are presented below on a per-snap basis to measure what the player did when he was on the field. The player name and year are highlighted, as well as the receiving yards per snap (YPS), which is probably the most important stat in judging the contributions to the team while the player was on the field. Also calculated are targets per snap (TPS) and receptions per snap (RPS).
The results show that Landry was slightly less likely to be targeted last year (0.141 TPS versus 0.156 TPS in 2018), although he still made two more receptions in 2019 than 2018 and improved his yardage totals (1.203 YPS in 2019 versus 1.020 YPS in 2018). For comparison, the team average YPS was 0.681 in 2019.
Table 1. Per-Snap Receiving Stats for Browns Holdovers 2018-2019
Player & year Snaps Tgt Rec Yds TPS RPS YPS Comment
Landry 2018 957 149 81 976 0.156 0.085 1.020 Good not great
Landry 2019 976 138 83 1,174 0.141 0.085 1.203 Improved
Chubb 2018 395 29 20 149 0.073 0.051 0.377 Low rec numbers
Chubb 2019 715 49 36 278 0.069 0.050 0.389 About the same
Callaway 2018 765 79 43 586 0.103 0.056 0.766 Above avg
Callaway 2019 151 15 8 89 0.099 0.053 0.589 Much worse
Hilliard 2018 58 10 9 105 0.172 0.155 1.810 Small data sample
Hilliard 2019 129 15 12 92 0.116 0.093 0.713 Worse
Ratley 2018 176 20 13 144 0.114 0.074 0.818 Comparable to Callaway
Ratley 2019 258 24 12 200 0.093 0.047 0.775 Slightly worse
Njoku 2018 871 88 56 639 0.101 0.064 0.734 Good numbers for TE
Njoku 2019 99 10 5 41 0.101 0.051 0.414 Terrible
Higgins 2018 483 53 39 572 0.110 0.081 1.184 Higher than Landry
Higgins 2019 172 11 4 55 0.064 0.023 0.320 Horrific
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Chubb, who was usually the outlet receiver or screen pass recipient, but also a capable route runner, had similar receiving numbers in 2019 as in his 2018 rookie year. Of course he usually gets his touches as a runner rather than as a receiver. Still, when Mayfield did throw him the ball, he usually caught it, so it is a bit strange that his receiving touches did not increase last year.
Chubb’s catch percentage (catches per target) was 73.5 percent, which is higher than Saquon Barkley at 71.2 percent. However, the Browns do not throw to Chubb as often as the Giants throw to Barkley, as a point of comparison. Barkley’s TPS ratio was 0.100, while Chubb’s TPS ratio was only 0.069.
The real eye-opener is that the numbers for holdover secondary receivers– Rashard Higgins, Antonio Callaway and Damion Ratley— ALL fell off in 2019, as did tight end David Njoku‘s numbers.
For whatever reason, Mayfield was especially less likely to target Higgins. It was not simply that he played more in 2018, he was not targeted as much when he was on the field. His targets per snap was 0.110 in 2018, declining by almost half in 2019 to 0.064. Higgins looked like a 1000-yard man when he was on the field in 2018. Last year, he was not a factor. If he had played all 1,043 offensive snaps last year, his extrapolated yardage total would have been 334 yards for the season, which is horrifically low. Was Higgins healthy last year? Was the team using him as a decoy? Something was up, that is certain.
Callaway might have been distracted by his alleged marijuana enterprise, and he certainly played like someone under the influence dropping from 0.766 YPS to 0.589 YPS.
Njoku was another receiver who had a good statistical year in 2018. His targets per snap actually stayed about the same the past two years at 0.101. However in a small data sample, he hung on only four times on 10 targets, and very few yards as well. 0.414 YPS is not NFL caliber. Of course, the performance of a tight end should also be measured by his blocking, but probably most observers would agree that the blocking was not there either. Yes he was injured and didn’t see the field very often, but when he did see the field the numbers were not there.
Ratley wound up becoming the No. 3 wide receiver at times last year, but Mayfield was less likely to throw to him: 0.093 TPS or 18 percent lower than his rookie year, 0.114 TPS. Does Mayfield have less trust in him? This is very hard to figure, as he looks like a potential No. 2 wide receiver, but the Browns did not like to use him.
Even running back Dontrell Hillard saw a great decline in TPS. In 2018 he played limited snaps, but caught nine out of 10 balls for 105 yards, which is like a stud wide receiver. In 2019, he came down to earth a bit, but 0.713 YPS is still very impressive and he also had moderate success running the ball. Yet Mayfield targeted him less in 2019 than in 2018: 0.116 TPS versus 0.155 TPS.
How can all of these players have gotten worse? The numbers are telling us the same things that the expert observers are saying: The 2019 Browns offense saw Mayfield focus on Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham, Jr. and the role of additional receivers, including running backs out of the backfield, were substantially reduced. The long-ball happy Browns were among the leaders in interceptions, much more so than in 2018.
The addition of OBJ is not an excuse. The other players should be more productive–not less–when a superstar is added to the team. Playing time of course is going to decrease, but the production per snap should get better for most players, not worse. This is just not normal. Normally players get better as they gain experience, but in the case of the Browns, production from all holdover receivers was diminished. It strongly suggests that something was badly out of whack in 2019 after having a diversified offense in 2018.
2019 really was a disaster, and the numbers tend to confirm it. This analyst predicts that new coach Kevin Stefanski will get it fixed and holdover players will be more productive in 2020 than they were in 2019.