As Training Camp for the Cleveland Browns and the rest of the NFL kicks off this week, one of the positions under scrutiny from many will be wide receiver.
After losing Josh Gordon to yet another suspension—this time for the entire 2015 season—many expected the team to go out and draft one of the top receivers available in the 2015 NFL Draft. Instead, the team chose to draft just one receiver—Washington State’s Vince Mayle—with the No. 123 pick in round four. Not drafting one of the highly touted wide receivers was seemingly a vote of confidence for those on the roster, especially for two veterans they signed in the offseason—Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline.
Though it seems like the front office has confidence in the former 1,000-yard receivers, some in the media do not share their conviction. In a recent season preview from the well-known website, Walter Football, the author had some scathing remarks for the Browns offense as a whole. However, he really had out it for the duo of Bowe and Hartline, as you can see below.
“…Making matters worse, the “winner” of the Manziel-McCown training camp “battle” won’t have anyone to throw to. Jordan Cameron wisely bolted out of town, leaving behind nothing at tight end, unless the disappointing Rob Housler counts (he doesn’t). The “top” two receivers on the roster are Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline, which is just pathetic. Bowe quit playing football long ago and will continue to steal money from a new front office. Hartline, meanwhile, wouldn’t even be on a 53-man roster on some teams; let alone be starting. Slot receiver Andrew Hawkins is the lone functional player, and he could do some damage if Cleveland actually had a quarterback who could get the ball to him consistently,” the author stated.
While the statement overall has “hack” written all over it, for the purpose of this article let’s focus on the Bowe comment because it is baseless and poorly researched. In fact, with Josh McCown under center and proper utilization of Bowe’s receiving talents not only will he not be stealing money from the Browns, but he could be in line for a resurgence in 2015.
For starters, let’s look at Bowe’s career receiving numbers. Since coming into the league in 2007, Bowe has caught 532 passes for 7,155 yards and 44 touchdowns. He is the owner of three 1,000-yard seasons, two 80-plus catch seasons and had an outstanding 2010 season where he caught 15 touchdowns with Matt Cassel—a quarterback who used his talents by stretching the field vertically—at the helm. Oh, and on top of all of this he has played for six different offensive coordinators, four different head coaches and nine different starting quarterbacks (sound familiar) during those eight seasons.
At 6’2” and 220 pounds, Bowe is a physical specimen of a receiver. He has always boasted solid route-running abilities, and combined them with a physical nature to go up and snatch the ball out of the air. Like many highly targeted wide receivers, Bowe has had his fair share of drops throughout his career—but overall, the positives have easily outweighed a drop here and there.
When the Browns inked Bowe to a two-year deal this offseason, fans should have been excited in regard to adding a 30-year old veteran receiver who is motivated to show the league what he can do in the right offense. Instead, the signing was met with a lot of negativity due to Bowe’s last two seasons in Kansas City with Alex Smith at the helm.
Over the course of the 2013 and 2014 seasons, Bowe saw his numbers drop in a big way. He recorded 117 receptions for 1,427 yards and just five touchdowns with Smith as his quarterback. His targets over the course of those two seasons were down as well, seeing just 198 passes come his way in two years. To compare, Bowe had not received less than 114 targets in a season since his injury-shortened season of 2009 where he had 87 targets despite missing five games.
With a more intermediate passer like Smith at the helm who does not push the ball down the field, it was intriguing that some decided to attribute Bowe’s statistical decline to not wanting to play—or “stealing money,” as Walter Football put it. But when you look at the statistical analysis to come, the picture is clear—Bowe was not being used properly in the Chiefs offense when Smith arrived.
Taken from the great folks at SportingCharts.com, there are two data points we are going to focus on today. Looking at the quarterbacks, we will look at “Air Yards” and for the receivers, we will focus on “Yards at the Catch.”
Starting with the quarterbacks, let’s take a look at the difference between Cassel and Smith during Bowe’s time in Kansas City (we would have gone further back, but the data only goes back to 2009).
2014: 1,323 air yards of 3,265 total passing yards. 40.5% of yards in the air (Last in the League)
2013: 1,478 air yards of 3,318 total passing yards. 44.6% of yards in the air (Third to Last in the League)
2012: 943 air yards of 1,796 total passing yards. 52.5% of yards in the air
2011: 956 air yards of 1,713 total passing yards. 55.8% of yards in the air
2010: 1,516 air yards of 3,116 total passing yards. 48.7% of yards in the air
2009: 1,692 air yards of 2,924 total passing yards. 57.9% of yards in the air
As you can see, during Bowe’s most successful seasons, he had a quarterback that was achieving the majority his yards through the air—not being dependent on his receivers to pick up the bulk of his passing yards after the catch, like Smith. Now, since this does not define just how far these two passers were throwing the ball down the field to Bowe, it does not paint a complete picture for the reader.
This is where “Yards at the Catch” comes into play for the receivers group.
This metric is defined by Sporting Charts as, “Player Receiving Yards At The Catch measures the number of yards generated by a receiver at the point of the catch and doesn’t take into consideration additional yards gained or lost after the catch is made. In other words, this is simply Receiving Yards less Yards After The Catch (YAC). By breaking this statistics into a per reception basis by taking the total number of receiving yards before the yards gained after the catch (Receiving Yards At The Catch) we get an understanding of how far on average the player is down the field when making the catch.”
Now that you have an understanding of the metric, let’s take a look at Bowe’s production during the seasons each of these quarterbacks were at the helm.
Right about now I know what many of you are thinking, “But the Browns don’t have a quarterback, so it doesn’t matter.” While you may feel this way, surprisingly the numbers say the Browns currently have a quarterback on the roster who—albeit in limited action—fits the mold of the type of quarterback Bowe has enjoyed success with. As you can clearly see, his Yards at the Catch average (YAtC) was much lower with Smith as his starting quarterback than Cassel. With Cassel’s ability/willingness to push the ball downfield and Bowe running longer routes, Bowe’s production was clearly higher when used as more of a threat down the field.
Using the same metrics above, let’s take a look into McCown’s last two seasons—in Chicago (2013) he started five of the eight games he played and in Tampa Bay (2014) he started and played in 11 games.
2014: 1,433 air yards of 2,206 total passing yards. 65% of yards in air (No. 1 in the NFL)
2013: 950 air yards of 1,829 total passing yards. 51.9% of yards in air
During those two seasons, McCown had some very talented receivers he could utilize throwing to down the field (like Bowe). How did those receivers perform during the 2014 and 2013 seasons?
|Season||Team||Player||Receptions||Yards||Yards After Catch||Yards At the Catch||YPC Avg||YAC Avg||YAtC Avg|
As you can see in the seasons in which McCown was at the helm, his very talented receivers enjoyed a lot of success down the field. In fact, all four receivers were major threats down the field—with the lowest averaging 9.8 yards at the catch (Marshall), and the highest averaging 12.8 yards at the catch (Evans).
One important thing to note is that these numbers were a combined total of all receiving yards for the entire season (it is how Sporting Charts had it defined), so we could not isolate yards just thrown to these receivers by only McCown. However, looking at his “Air Yards” in comparison to the “Yards at the Catch” averages for these players, you can see a correlation to his ability to push the ball down the field and the receiver’s success.
So what does this all mean for Bowe next season? To put it simply, if McCown emerges as the starting quarterback over Johnny Manziel there is a major opportunity, based on the historical data, for Bowe to be an impact receiver in the Browns offense.
When you look at the numbers, it all paints the same picture—when Bowe is targeted further down the field (and targeted often), he puts up big-time numbers as a No. 1 wide receiver. With a guy like McCown behind the Browns stout offensive line, not only could Browns fans see a resurgence out of Bowe—they could see him join the likes of Gordon, Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, Kevin Johnson and Antonio Bryant in the Browns 1,000-yard club since 1999.