The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football

By Jonathan Bales

Running the Numbers: Replacing Laurent Robinson

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Jonathan Bales

My latest post at DallasCowboys.com deals with the importance of No. 3 wide receivers.  Garrett and the Cowboys lined up with three or more receivers on the field on 42% of plays in 2012, down from 46% the prior season.  Those figures are in the bottom half of the NFL, but that may be a good thing:

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however. Since 2009, teams that have had a third receiver that ranked in the top 10 in yards among all such players have been slightly less successful (8.9 wins/season) than the bottom-dwellers (9.0 wins/season).

The teams that have lined up with three or more receivers the most often have also struggled. The top 10 teams in 3+ wide receiver sets since 2009 have averaged only 6.6 wins/season, compared to 8.5 wins/season for the 10 teams that have lined up in 3+ receiver sets the least.

Poor teams tend to pass the ball often because they need to overcome deficits, but that isn’t the reason for the results. By analyzing third-receiver production as a component of overall team passing success, teams that throw the ball only because they are losing won’t skew the results. After doing so, the results only get more drastic. Third receivers that have tallied over 14% of their team’s total receiving yards have seen their squads manage a measly 5.9 wins/season. Those teams that have had a less productive third receiver, one that raked in less than 10% of their team’s total receiving yards, have averaged a more impressive 9.2 wins.

You can read the entire post here.

Ultimately, I think the value of No. 3 receivers is often reflected not in their own statistics, but those of teammates.  Laurent Robinson was surely an asset last season, but he’s not necessarily irreplaceable.  I personally would have loved to grab Jacoby Jones, but my guess is the team’s opening day third receiver is already on the roster.

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7 Responses to Running the Numbers: Replacing Laurent Robinson

  1. john coleman says:

    The only way I see the 3rd WR being a problem is if we have an injury to our #1 or #2. Otherwise, it will be an interesting competition.

    Ogletree has the inside track in most eyes. However, it is worth pointing out he had the same inside track last season. Maybe his FA venture and no interest will motivate him back to his rookie form. I suspect he will be pushed and his very limited ST skill will be a factor. With Radway, Holmes, Coale, and a couple of UDFA’s, he must perform. The Kemp kid and Salim have legit shots.

  2. Tom says:

    I don’t have a problem with Dallas trying to fill the 3rd WR spot with one of the guys on the roster. As John Coleman stated, the real problem would Ogletree has the inside track by default, based on his experience. But he could easily lose out to Harris, Coale, Radway, and Beasley. I think those 4 are his main competition. Ogletree just never seemed to want to work hard enough to take advantage of his natural talent. Maybe he learned something by watching Robinson come in and post great numbers as the 3rd WR and make himself a rich man in FA. Ogletree has the talent to do it, but not the maturity/work ethic so far.

    I expected more out of Harris last season, but I think his injuries and condensed off-season stunted his growth. I do like Coale even more than I liked Harris last season to win the job. He’s bigger, has better hands, and is ahead of Harris in route running. He also played against better competition at VT.

    With the defenders having to worry about Witten, Austin, Bryant, and Murray, the 3rd WR should pull the nickel/dime CB’s on a consistent basis. Crayton made his living beating this caliber of DB.

    The question is are any of the group of youngsters better than Crayton? Or at least as good as? I think there’s a very good chance one or more of them will be.

  3. JC–Good point on Ogletree. I really think the third WR is on the roster at this point, and Ogletree won’t land it unless he has a good camp. And you’re right on about injury..#3 WR not so important until there’s an injury, but you could say that about every backup position.

    Tom–Harris is a personal favorite of mine. I loved him in college, and I think there’s something there. We’ll see if he sticks around.

  4. valmont says:

    “Poor teams tend to pass the ball often because they need to overcome deficits, but that isn’t the reason for the results. By analyzing third-receiver production as a component of overall team passing success, teams that throw the ball only because they are losing won’t skew the results”

    nice article. I’m not following the logic about why looking at 3rd WR yards as a % of total WR yards corrects for the game situation problem.

    If a team is losing and is in passing mode, they’ll presumably be playing more 3 WR sets, and 3rd WR yards as a % of total WR yards will be relatively higher than it would be otherwise.

    Just FYI, this is the best analysis I’ve seen on how to account for game situation. Have you considered following this methodology?

    http://fifthdown.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/08/the-true-measure-of-a-pass-heavy-offense/

    anyway, your conclusion seems to defy common sense. The Packer’s 3 WR sets were lethal so I’m struggling with the conclusion that a good 3rd WR is a negative.

  5. Valmont–I don’t think a good third WR is a negative by any means..given the choice of Laurent Robinson and Ogletree, I’m of course taking Robinson. My point is their importance may be slightly overblown.

    Looking at a 3rd WRs % of total yards doesn’t totally control for game situation, but it gets us closer. A 700-yard No. 3 WR on a team that thrw for 5,000 yds doesn’t appear as valuable as one on a team that three for 3,000. At the very least, tracking 3rd WRs’ yards in relation to their team’s passing totals is a better option than looking at receiving totals in isolation. Since the % method creates a substantially bigger gap in team win percentage, I think there is something interesting there.

    Now a third WR’s importance could increase dramatically with an injury, but you could say that about a backup QB too.

  6. valmont says:

    I’m not persuaded that looking at 3rd WR yards as a % of total WR yards addresses the issue of game situation.

    Just imagine the Jets. Their number #1 and #2 guys last year were Holmes and Plax. If everything goes the way Rex Ryan wants and the Jets are winning, the 3rd WR is gonna see zip-zero … they’re going to pound Shaun Greene all day.

    I applaud your efforts to isolate the effect, that goal is correct … I’m not sure that your methodology accomplishes what you’re intending though.

  7. In the hypothetical Jets example, a GREAT third WR would see very few targets. If he totals just a 300 yards, he’d be in the bottom portion of the NFL for third WRs. But if the Jets are winning and running, they aren’t throwing for a lot of yards in general. While the measure isn’t perfect, the ratio of the 3rd WR’s stats to total team stats would be more representative of his true value than the stats alone.

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