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The Washington Redskins Pint-Sized Receivers, Touchdowns and the Importance of Receiver Size

The Redskins don't boast the biggest receiving corps, but how do they compare to the rest of the league, and what effect does this lack of size have?

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Patrick Smith

Touchdown Gods

Big receivers score more touchdowns.  Plain and simple.  In the last ten years, there have been 92 total double-digit receiving touchdown seasons, 77 of which came just from wide receivers.  The vast majority of these seasons came from players that were over 6'0" and 200 lbs.  I also looked at the top 88 (I tried to get the cutoff as close to 100 as I could) receiving TD seasons of all-time and the top 83 of all-time from wide receivers and found that this is not an entirely new phenomenon.  Bigger receivers have been scoring more touchdowns for some time now.  This is a trend that is only becoming more prevalent as we move forward.  Just check out the results from the table below, and see for yourself.

Height and Weight of Players with Top Receiving TD Seasons (since 2004 and all-time)
Double-Digit TD Seasons since 2004 (All Positions) Double-Digit TD Seasons Since 2004 (WRs) Top 88 Seasons All-Time (All Positions) Top 83 Seasons All-Time (WRs)
% over 6'2" 66% 60% 63% 61%
% over 6'1" 75% 70% 70% 70%
% over 6'0" 91% 90% 90% 89%
% over 215 lbs 58% 49% 33% 30%
% over 200 lbs 78% 74% 57% 55%

These larger players use their height and size to win in jump ball situations and to box out defenders.  The latter is a skill that becomes particularly useful when the field shrinks in the red zone.  This is where much of the touchdown production from these bigger players comes from.  Jonathan Bales recently wrote an article on Rotoworld that explored how much more efficient and productive bigger wide receivers were in the red zone.  Here are the major findings from his article (data dates back to 2000 and only includes players with a minimum of 35 RZ targets).

  • On average wide receivers that were 6'0" or shorter had a red zone target to touchdown conversion rate (RZTD) of 22%, players that were 6'1" to 6'2" had a 24.5% RZTD and players that were 6'3" or taller had a RZTD of over 27%. The tallest receivers were over 20% more likely to convert a red zone target into a touchdown than the shortest ones were.
  • On average WRs that were sub 196 lbs had a RZTD of 20.9%, WRs that were 196-210 lbs had a RZTD of over 23%, WRs that weighed over 211 lbs had a RZTD of about 27% and WRs over 217 lbs had a RZTD of 28.4%. The heaviest WRs were 35.9% more likely to score than the lightest WRs.
  • The top 15 most efficient wide receivers in the red zone were taller than 72.5 inches (6-0 ½).
  • Only one of the top 15 most efficient wide receivers in the red zone was below 203 lbs.

In this article Bales also points out that the exceptions to these rules often come from players that have elite quarterbacks throwing to them.  If you look at the PFR links in the first paragraph, you'll also notice that many of the sub 6"0' and 200 lbs players that scored double-digit TDs had elite signal callers getting them the ball (Manning, Rodgers, Brees and Favre for example).

This is all very nice information, but just how much does this have an impact on a team's record.  To give us a better idea, I looked at teams that ranked in the top 12 (there are 12 playoff teams and using this number covers just over the top third of the league) in points per drive, red zone trip to TD conversion rate and passing touchdowns since 2000, and determined how successful they were based on their final record and if they made the playoffs.  These three statistics are not the same as the RZ target to TD conversion rate that we discussed before, but they are all closely related to this metric.

Season Records/Results for Top 12 in Points/Drive, RZ Trip Conv. Rate and Passing TD (since 2000)
Points/Drive Top 12 RZ Trip to TD Conversion Rate Top 12 Passing TD Top 12
% that Made Playoffs 67% 51% 57%
%  with Winnings Records 76% 60% 67%
% with > or = .500 record 88% 75% 80%

As you can see, scoring more touchdowns in general, in the red zone and through the air appears to have had an impact on the success of these teams.  This is no smoking gun, but there definitely seems to be a correlation there.  The majority of the top 12 teams in each category made the playoffs and over three quarters of them had at least a .500 record.

Wait a second.  This is a Redskins site, right?  What in the hell does this have to do with the Redskins?  One of the many problems that Washington has is that the team's receivers are quite small.  How small is quite small though, and has this really had an impact on the team?

The Size of the Redskins' Receivers

It seems like everyone always talks about how the Redskins have a small receiving corps, but what does that actually mean?  How small are they?  How do they compare to the average team?  And where do they rank size-wise in the league?  Well, don't worry, because I'm going to tell you.

In order to create averages for every team I had to first determine how the depth charts would look.   I used Ourlads, Rotoworld, Yahoo and Pro Football Focus in order to project starting lineups for each team.  I used ESPN's draft results and NFL Draft Scout to obtain the height for each player.  I chose these two sites because they list the combine or pre-draft height, while many NFL teams either round-up or add an entire inch or more to the height of their players on the team websites.  I did, however, use the team sites for player weight, because weight fluctuates far too often to use the college number.  I also averaged the height and weight of Santana Moss and Aldrick Robinson together (they have exactly the same height) to come up with the Redskins WR5 numbers, because the focus of this piece is not on who will win that battle.  The heights are all listed in inches, so just remember that 72 inches equals 6 feet.

Redskins WR Team Average Heights & Rankings
WR1-WR2 Avg. WR1-WR3 Avg. WR1-WR5 Avg.
Redskins Avg. Height 70.8 70.8 71.1
NFL Team Avg. Height 73.1 72.7 72.6
Redskins Avg. Height Rank 30th 30th 31st

Redskins WR Team Average Weights & Rankings
WR1-WR2 Avg. WR1-WR3 Avg. WR1-WR5 Avg.
Redskins Avg. Weight 193.5 194 195.6
NFL Team Avg. Weight 206.5 202.4 201.7
Redskins Avg. Weight Ranking 29th 28th 29th

The Redskins rank in the bottom five of every category.  That is depressing.  Perhaps, extra-small players like DeSean Jackson or Santana Moss are bringing down the average though.  The following rankings are comprised of the top five wide receivers from each team (Aldrick Robinson was also included).

Redskins WR Individual Heights, Weights & Rankings
Player Height Height Rank (of 161) Weight Weight Rank (of 161)
DeSean Jackson 69.75 140th 175 157th
Pierre Garcon 71.875 103rd 212 42nd
Andre Roberts 70.875 125th 195 101st
Leonard Hankerson 73.5 61st 211 46th
Santana Moss 69.625 142nd 189 122nd
Aldrick Robinson 69.625 142nd 181 148th
NFL Average 72.587 N/A 202 N/A

Unfortunately, that is not the case.  They pretty much are all hurting the average.  The only Redskin in the top 100 for height is the oft-injured and probable lame duck receiver, Leonard Hankerson (61st).  Garcon joins Hankerson in the top 100 for weight, but both players rank outside of the top 40.   Here are some more stats that explain just how size-deficient this team is.

  • The Redskins are one of only three teams (Steelers and Seahawks) that do not have a 6 ft player as a starting or top 2 WR (WR1 and WR2). 17 teams have two of them in their top 2 WRs.
  • Only one other team (Steelers) does not a have a 6 ft player as one of their top 3 WRs. Nine teams have three of them in their top 3 WRs.
  • Only one of the top 3 WRs on the Redskins depth chart is over 200 lbs. 21 teams have two of them.
  • The Redskins are one of 3 teams (Bills and Dolphins) that do not have a 6'2" top 5 WR. 18 teams have at least one 6'3" top 5 WR.
  • The Redskins are one of ten teams that do not have a top 5 WR over 215 lbs.

Alright, well, tight ends do a lot of damage in the red zone and score a lot of touchdowns in general.  Maybe the Redskins should lean on this position group a little bit more.

Redskins TE1-TE2 Team Average Heights, Weights & Rankings
Avg. Height Avg. Weight
Redskins TE1-TE2 Avg. 75.4 243
NFL Team Avg. 76.7 253.8
Redskins TE1-TE2 Rank 30th 30th

Redskins TE Individual Heights, Weights & Rankings
Height Position Height Rank (TE1 or TE2) Height Rank (All TE1 & TE2) Weight Position Weight Rank (TE1 or TE2) Weight Rank (All TE1 & TE2)
Jordan Reed 74.5 31st 63rd 225 32nd 63rd
Logan Paulsen 76.25 17th 36th 261 6th 14th
NFL Average 76.6 N/A N/A 253.8 N/A N/A

It looks like just more of the same here.  I love Jordan Reed, and I don't think people understand how historic his rookie season was, but I'm a little concerned about the fact that he is basically the smallest starting tight end in the league (ranked 63 out of 64 in both height and weight).  Before we move on, let's look at the combined average size of the wide receivers and tight ends in the Skins' personnel groupings and see how they compare to the rest of the league.  Based on what you've already read, you can pretty much tell how this one is going to play out.

Redskins Personnel Groupings Team Average Heights & Rankings
11 Personnel Avg. 12 Personnel Avg. 21 Personnel Avg.
Redskins Avg. Height 71.8 73.1 72
NFL Team Average Height 73.7 74.9 74.3
Redskins Avg. Height Rank 32nd 31st 31st

Redskins Personnel Groupings Team Average Weights & Rankings
11 Personnel Avg. 12 Personnel Avg. 21 Personnel Avg.
Redskins Avg. Weight 201.8 218.3 204
NFL Team Average Weight 215.6 230.2 222.8
Redskins Avg. Weight Rank 32nd 32nd 32nd

  • The Redskins are one of two teams (Dolphins) that do not have a 6'3" player in their 11 personnel grouping. Ten teams have two of them in their starting 11 personnel.
  • The Redskins are the only team without a 230 lbs player in their starting 11 personnel.
  • The Redskins are the only team that starts a 21 personnel grouping that does not have either a 6'0" WR or a 6'4" TE.

The Effect on the Redskins

Shockingly enough, this lack of size has had an effect on the Redskins.  Take a look at the table below, and notice that when the numbers are poor, the record takes a hit.  You can also see that success in these areas has coincided with winning records.

Redskins Points/Drive, RZ Trip Conv. Rate & Passing TD Rankings and Team Final Records (since 2000)
Year RZ Trip to TD Conv. Rate Rank Points/Drive Rank Passing TD Rank Redskins Final Record
2013 25th 24th 24th 3-13
2012 4th 6th 13th 10-6
2011 30th 20th 23rd 5-11
2010 19th 28th 22nd 6-10
2009 21st 23rd 16th 4-12
2008 20th 27th 26th 8-8
2007 17th 18th 20th 9-7
2006 14th 15th 17th 5-11
2005 3rd 12th 5th 10-6
2004 26th 31st 24th 6-10
2003 16th 20th 13th 5-11
2002 16th 25th 11th 7-9
2001 28th 28th 28th 8-8
2000 19th 23rd 19th 8-8

After reading all of this it should come as no surprise to you that not many Redskins players have been successful in the red zone over the course of the last several years.  The only Redskin to rank in the top 10 of total red zone TDs for WRs in the past 6 years was Jabar Gaffney.  Gaffney is just over 6'1" and he weighs 200 lbs.  The Redskins parted ways with him after one season.  No Redskin has ranked in the top 10 for all players (TEs and RBs included) in total red zone TDs in the last 6 years.  During this same time period, the only Redskins that have been highly ranked in the RZTD efficiency metric, have done so with very few RZ targets (10 or less in every case and 5 or less in half of them).

The Bengals Receivers and Jay Gruden

Fortunately for the Redskins, Jay Gruden's history with the Bengals indicates that he tends to favor bigger receivers.  During Gruden's time in Cincinnati, the Bengals drafted five wide receivers (A.J. Green, Ryan Whalen, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones and Cobi Hamilton) and one tight end (Tyler Eiftert).  Every one of these players was at least 6'1" and 199 lbs at the time that they were drafted.  This is even more telling when you consider that the Bengals front office is well known for giving the coaches a great deal of say in the team's personnel decisions.

Gruden didn't just draft these players; he frequently utilized them on the field.  According to PFF, the Bengals threw 1,544 pass targets during Jay Gruden's term as offensive coordinator from 2011 to 2013.  Of those 1,544, 87% went to wide receivers or tight ends.  Over 82% of the teams WR/TE targets, receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns went to players that were over 6 feet tall.   More than 62% of the teams WR/TE targets, receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns went to players that weighed over 200 pounds.  Also, the numbers do not significantly drop when you focus solely on wide receivers.

The recent signings of DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts would seem to suggest that Gruden's philosophy may have changed in this regard, but the Redskins' list of pre-draft prospect meetings hint to us that Gruden's affinity for larger receivers may not have actually waned all that much.  According, to this recent Hogs Haven post the Redskins have met with 11 wide receivers since the NFL Combine.  The average height and weight of these players is just over 6'1" and 203 pounds.  Seven of the eleven are over 6 feet tall (nine of them are at least 5'11"), and six of them weigh over 200 pounds (nine of them weigh at least 198 pounds).

Fixing the Problem

So, how, and maybe more importantly, when, do the Redskins address this issue?  If they are interested in doing so right now, they can, because there will be plenty of opportunities to do so in this week's draft.  In fact, many draft experts have labeled this as one of the deepest wide receiver classes of all-time.  Not only is this class deep, its players are pretty large human beings too.  There looks to be over 15 draftable wide receivers in this year's class that are both over 6 feet tall and that weigh over 200 pounds.  Of this group, only Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans will definitely be gone at pick number 34.  Some early round players that fit this profile include: Allen Robinson, Jordan Matthews, Cody Latimer, Kelvin Benjamin, Davante Adams, Donte Moncrief and Martavis Bryant.  Some mid to late-round options are: Jeff Janis, Quincy Enuwa, Brandon Coleman and Cody Hoffman.

The same is true of the tight end position, as just under ten draftable quality players are over 6'5" and 255 pounds.  Every one of these players could fall to the second round and beyond.  The group includes:  Austin Sefarian-Jenkins, Jace Amaro, Troy Niklas, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Marcel Jensen, Crockett Gilmore and Arthur Lynch.

Bottom Line

Wide receiver and tight end are clearly not at the top of the Redskins list of needs.  They should actually boast quite a potent offense with the new combination of Jackson, Garcon, Roberts and Reed.  But how good is an offense, or a team for that matter, that cannot consistently score touchdowns?  Based on the results that we've seen here, I would say not good enough.  If the Redskins want to be truly successful, then they will need to improve on their ability to score touchdowns through the air and in the red zone.  In order to do this, they will need to add bigger receivers to the roster.

I'm not saying that the front office should force the issue and reach for large players in the upcoming draft, but if the best player on their board happens to be a wide receiver or a tight end with some size, then they should not hesitate to make the selection based on a perceived lack of need (the need is there whether they perceive it or not).  They should stick to their word and take the best player available.