Heading into the 2020 NFL Draft, three AFC teams – the Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, and New York Jets – have clear needs at wide receiver. In a draft class loaded with depth at the position, they should all be able to boost the receiving options for their respective quarterbacks.
But what should each team be looking for from any potential wideout additions in the draft? We looked at the Pro Football Network Offensive Share Metric (OSM) data from the receivers for Denver, Indianapolis, and New York to find out.
OSM uses the NFL’s NextGen Stats and a series of algorithms to assess a player’s contribution to an offense by looking at the factors only he could control.
Pro Football Network’s Director of Analytics Brett Yarris crunched the numbers to work out the average weekly OSM grade for each team’s wideout to determine what they require at the position.
Denver Broncos – A quarterback elevator
Denver’s receivers earned an average overall grade for the season of 30.90, indicating a ‘very good’ level of performance.
However, an analysis of their weekly grades indicates the Broncos’ wideouts were getting worse before their Week 10 bye. They began the season with a combined average grade of 38.18, but from there, they declined at a deceleration rate of /1.07.
Immediately after the bye, the Broncos receivers endured their two worst games of the season. In Week 11, they posted a grade of 22.56. That was followed up in Week 12 by a game in which Courtland Sutton was their only qualifying wideout with a score of 10.04 – just above the threshold for what is considered an ‘average’ level of performance.
It was after the Week 12 loss to the Buffalo Bills that 2019 second-round pick Drew Lock took over as the starting quarterback, leading the Broncos to four wins from their final five games.
In terms of the performance of his receivers, Lock helped ensure there was no further decline. He proved a steadying presence, the receivers getting worse at a deceleration rate of /1.05 compared to Joe Flacco’s rate /1.17 before the bye.
Yet, the fact there was no improvement indicates this is a group where the Broncos require a receiver who can elevate the play of his quarterback.
Sutton, even with his massive catch radius and excellent body control, can only do so much. With Lock’s elite arm and willingness to take risks with deep shots, a downfield playmaker like Alabama’s Henry Ruggs III is the ideal receiver to take Denver’s passing game to the next level.
Indianapolis Colts – Consistency
One of the oddities of the Colts deciding to trade the 13th overall pick to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for defensive tackle DeForest Buckner was that it took them out of the discussion for the draft’s premier receivers.
Indianapolis could unquestionably use an elite talent at the position, as the Colts’ receivers were the picture of inconsistency in 2019.
The wideouts started the season with an impressive combined grade of 36.39. However, it was mostly downhill from there. Before the bye, they declined at a deceleration rate of /1.93.
After their Week 6 bye, they improved at a multiple of x1.07. There was a substantial amount of variance in their performances in the final 11 games of the campaign. The increase in bounce rate – which measures the stability of the data – from 1.6 to 2.4 reflects this.
The combined season-long average grade for the 2019 season for the Colts receivers was 33.11, the highest of the three teams in question. However, in a year where T.Y. Hilton missed six games through injury, the fact their displays were so up and down speaks to an inability to fill the void in his absence.
Even with his injury issues, Hilton (501 yards) was still the Colts second-leading receiver behind Zach Pascal (607 yards). That statistic and there being three weeks where a wideout did not qualify for an OSM grade, indicates a lack of quality behind the veteran of eight seasons.
It would be negligent of the Colts to head into 2020 relying purely on the 30-year-old Hilton. Indianapolis will still have high hopes for last year’s second-round pick Parris Campbell, but the onus is on Chris Ballard to use one of his three day-two picks to find a consistent receiver who can ensure any future injuries to Hilton do not hit quite as hard.
New York Jets – Need a dynamic wide receiver for Darnold
Few are likely to look back on the 2019 Jets receiving corps with fondness yet, with an overall average grade for the season of 31.14 and at least one OSM qualifier for every week of the season, they were a consistent group.
That consistency was harnessed to a greater extent once Sam Darnold returned from the bout of mono that cost him three weeks of the season.
From Darnold’s October comeback onwards, the Jets’ wideouts got only slightly worse at a deceleration rate of /1.06.
Slot receiver Jamison Crowder earned four of the five highest individual grades of the season from a Jets wideout.
However, the departure of deep threat Robby Anderson to the Carolina Panthers in free agency could have a sizeable impact if he is not replaced. The absence of a true field stretcher would further restrict Darnold’s options in the passing game and potentially limit Crowder’s freedom to exploit the underneath areas Anderson opened.
If the Jets want to build on what their receivers accomplished in 2019, then they must fill the Anderson void. Of the three most receiver-needy teams in the AFC, they are best placed to address the position with the 11th overall pick in the first round.
Ahead of a crucial third year in Darnold’s development, the Jets must find a dynamic starting receiver who can help him take the next step towards becoming the premier quarterback in a now Tom Brady-less AFC East.