One of the more traditional ways to evaluate how important a receiver is to an offense is to look at how many times he's being targeted. This, combined with the number of yards he gains, provides a rudimentary feel for his production within a team's system.
At ProFootballFocus.com, we strive to go beyond traditional evaluation criteria. Because of our game-charting process, we can determine exactly how many times a receiver goes into a pass route. Combining this "opportunity" statistic (the number of times a player runs a route) with a "delivery" statistic (yards), we've produced a new measure of performance: yards per route run (YpRR).
Each coach treats his receivers differently when it comes to giving them a rest, and each team runs different packages and schemes; as a result, there is a huge variation in chances for each receiver to get down the field on passing plays. However, there is one thing that almost always remains constant: a team's desire to give more snaps to players who produce in limited minutes.
After Week 1 last season, the player with the best YpRR was the Packers' Jordy Nelson, who ran only 19 routes but posted a 4.05. In pure yardage terms, he ranked 17th after Week 1. But, as we know now, his productivity resulted in more snaps and, by season's end, he had the seventh-most yards in the NFL (1,263).
Thus, there is value in reviewing early-season YpRR to determine who may be seeing more of the ball in the coming weeks. Here's a look at the top eight players over the first two weeks of the season (minimum 30 routes run):
1. Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers: 3.62 YpRR
The ever-youthful Smith has been in for 58 of the Panthers' 61 passing plays and, despite being by some margin their most dangerous threat, still has not been stopped. Some of this can be attributed to his ability to take a short pass and break a tackle for additional yardage; his five tackles avoided rank second among receivers.