It was an exciting win, but not a surprising one. Perhaps it’s no surprise that in the ultimate team sport, assigning credit for something even as seemingly straightforward as separation is complicated. The All-Pro had a pair of big catches in the final minutes of Week 1’s drama-filled victory over the Texans, helping to set up Lutz’s 58-yard game winner. Spread that average over a 16-game season and his output would fall somewhere around 1,806 yards.

And the Saints are thriving even in a season where they’ve lost Brees, Cook, and Alvin Kamara for stretches due to injury as a result. That would have been good enough to lead the league in each full season from 2004-2006. He has produced some monster fantasy stats and has been a hog in targets . He’s carrying the Saints along with him for the ride.

Since depth of target is so important in determining separation, we grouped plays into buckets — depending on whether a pass attempt was short, intermediate or deep — and created an SOE leaderboard for each. One way to try to answer the question is to look at how well a receiver creates and maintains separation from a defender. Timo Riske of Pro Football Focus has shown that the best receivers in the league earn their targets all over the field, so it’s no surprise to see familiar names in the deep-target SOE ranks.

The resulting lists have reasonably strong face validity — players at the top of the leaderboards tend to be widely regarded as good route runners — suggesting SOE could be useful as a descriptive metric. One pass-happy game by Brees could give him the opportunity to set the record by Week 16, then sit out Week 17 should the Saints be in position to rest their starters heading into the postseason. Other players appear able to consistently create separation on short targets — Jarvis Landry is one example — but the value of Landry’s targets as measured by EPA are much lower than those directed at Thomas. He’s carrying the Saints along with him for the ride.. Best and worst receiver seasons on short passes as measured by separation over expected (SOE) per play, 2017-19. Regular-season passes of between 5 and 15 air yards. Ultimately, our separation model ending up including features that account for quarterback arm strength, the receiver’s separation at the time the QB targeted them, the horizontal and vertical position of the receiver on the field at the time of the throw, where the receiver lined up pre-snap, the distance to the goal line, the amount of break in the receiver’s route during the football’s journey through the air after it was released, the depth of the QB’s drop, the number of other routes that were being run on the play, if the play was a play-action pass or a screen, and the number of deep safeties.3. So we need to account for depth of target and how far the QB had to throw the ball when we apportion credit for the separation a receiver got on a given play. To try to capture the results of this game of cat and mouse between receiver and defender, we used NFL Next Gen Stats data that measures the distance between a receiver and the nearest defender at key moments in each play. Michael Thomas flies over the Falcons for 182 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns. Brees has helped his production and willed him to some big days, sure — but he’d be great no matter who was throwing to him.

With the score tied in a shootout with the Panthers and Carolina threatening to get the ball back with roughly 30 seconds left in regulation, Drew Brees only had one target on his mind for the biggest third down of the game. Our New Metric Shows How Good NFL Receivers Are At Creating Separation.

(Again, no one doubts Jones’s talent or skills, and both he and Thomas are consistently in the conversation for best receiver in the league.). Chark and Kenny Stills at the top of the list — the “stretch X” receivers whose job is to take the top off a defense. who else by Michael Thomas for 24 yards pic.twitter.com/2iBRCE8x6A. Here’s where that would stand in the NFL’s single-season record books: Thomas could lop one catch per game off his weekly average and still set the NFL’s reception record by a comfortable margin. The defense is typically willing to allow an offense to throw to wide-open players short, then rally to make a tackle for a short gain. Wide Receivers (6)

Thomas has emerged as a dark horse MVP candidate, even though it’ll take a minor miracle for a wide receiver to win the award. Sorry, your blog cannot share posts by email. In the three seasons for which we have Next Gen data, Thomas has regularly posted high EPA per play values on these short targets and has been above average in creating separation at the catch point in two of the past three seasons. Receiving stats on short passes for Michael Thomas, including separation over expected (SOE) and expected points added (EPA) per play. Source: NFL Next Gen Stats, ESPN Stats & Information Group.

The model is an xgboost trained with fivefold cross validation and tested on out-of-sample data. And Julio’s targets have, on average, been worth less than Thomas’s in the previous three years. Perhaps even Simpson’s paradox caveats. His fourth-quarter touchdown grab against the Buccaneers in Week 5 effectively shut the door on Tampa Bay’s comeback hopes. Forty-eight percent of Thomas’s 185 targets came on passes 5 yards or less downfield in 2019… Incredibly, Thomas finished as a top-five fantasy WR nine times during his final 12 games of 2019. Michael Thomas flies over the Falcons for 182 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns.

Michael Thomas is hurtling toward NFL history.

Sources: NFL Next Gen Stats, ESPN Stats & Information Group. Thomas isn’t in the same class as Adams and Allen when it comes to creating separation — Adams has averaged over a half-yard of SOE the past two years on intermediates routes — but despite the tighter windows, the expected value Thomas created on these targets ranks him among the best in the league on a per-play basis. Being quick and fast isn’t enough for NFL success; just ask Yamon Figurs or Darrius Heyward-Bey, both of whom ran a 4.3 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. @friscojosh, NFL (733 posts) The data set includes all regular-season pass attempts from the last three seasons, excluding spikes and passes from punts and field goal formations. Year-over-year r-squared of 0.13, n = 53 player season pairs from 2017-2019. Week 1’s drama-filled victory over the Texans, fourth-quarter touchdown grab against the Buccaneers in Week 5, The gore, guts and horror of an NFL fumble pile, The best of Lamar Jackson’s jukes, spins and stiff-arms, I understand why Andrew Luck retired, because I’ve been in his shoes, 10 unwritten rules to not screw up your NFL jersey number, The never-before-revealed details of the Eli Manning draft-day trade. As a general rule, however, separation and value are decoupled on short passes. And compared to Atlanta’s Julio Jones — a receiver whose natural talent and skill set are rarely questioned — Thomas comes out ahead on both our separation and value metrics. For instance, short passes are, on average, associated with more separation than deeper passes because a defender’s top priority is to avoid getting beat deep. Jerry Rice, the greatest wide receiver in modern NFL history, only had three years where he had more receptions than Thomas has had in 68 percent of his season to date. Thomas has become one of the best wide receivers in the game. And the ultimate goal of every route is to create enough separation from a defender to earn a target and make a catch. Get the latest fantasy news, stats, and injury updates for New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas from CBS Sports.

The fourth-year wide receiver had his sixth game of the season with 10+ receptions, dusting the Panthers for 10 catches, 101 yards, and a touchdown. Forty-eight percent of Thomas’s 185 targets came on passes 5 yards or less downfield in 2019. Measuring separation at the time of the throw punishes teammates with great chemistry. And targets to him are among the most valuable plays in football across all depths.

So while we’d like more data, we should probably expect players who show the ability to separate above expectation on routes at these depths to continue to do so.7, Best and worst receiver seasons on intermediate passes as measured by separation over expected (SOE) per play, 2017-19. The intermediate SOE leaderboard includes seasons from receivers like Davante Adams, Keenan Allen, Danny Amendola, Cooper Kupp and Adam Humphries, all of whom are generally regarded as skilled route runners. Five plays later, Wil Lutz booted a 33-yard kick through the uprights to claim a 34-31 win over a division rival and keep the 9-2 Saints on pace for a first-round bye. The final model does a decent job of predicting separation at the catch point on a given play.4 We used its predictions as a baseline for performance and compared each receiver’s actual separation on a given play to what the model expected an average player’s separation would have been, given similar circumstances.

So which is it: elite talent, or elite situation?

But those totals don't include a whopping nine pass interference penalties against the New Orleans defense for 183 yards. Thomas has had over 1,000 yards in each season so far, and over ten receiving touchdowns. Separation Over Expected (1).

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