A Deep Dive into the WRs, part I: Total Usage + Man vs. Zone

| May 20th, 2024

After lacking talent at the wide receiver position for the better part of the last decade, the Bears have completely revamped the room in the last two offseasons with the additions of DJ Moore, Keenan Allen, and Rome Odunze, and they now boast what might be the best WR trio in the NFL.

This week I want to dive into the WRs, with an in-depth look at:

  • How efficient they were
  • How frequently and efficiently they played in the slot
  • How they performed against man and zone coverage
  • How frequently and efficiently they were targeted at different depths of the field
  • 3rd and 4th down production
  • Red zone usage

We’ll examine the first three areas today, with a follow-up piece tomorrow looking at the latter half of the list.

I want to note that the analysis will mostly focus on Moore and Allen, since they have NFL production that is easier to analyze and contextualize. I’ll provide some Odunze stats when relevant, but it’s hard to say for sure how college production and/or usage will translate to the NFL.

Overall Stats

Let’s start with a basic look at overall production in 2023. The table below shows how Moore and Allen ranked compared to all NFL wide receivers in the basic receiving stats.

At first glance, it is easy to see that both players were among the most productive in the NFL in 2023, and that wasn’t a one-year fluke either. Moore is currently averaging over 1000 yards per season in his career, and Allen is as well if you don’t count the season when he only played one game.

Overall Efficiency

Of course, volume stats don’t tell you the whole story. We also need to look at how efficient players are with their targets. The table below shows that data for Moore and Allen in 2023, as well as their ranks compared to 59 WRs with at least 75 targets. Values in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while those in the bottom 25% are in red. NFL best, average, and worst values among those 59 players are also included to help contextualize the data. All data is pulled from Pro Football Reference’s Game Play Finder.

A few thoughts:

  • Both players were highly efficient at turning targets into catches in 2023, ranking among the best in the NFL in catch rate.
    • This was a welcome change for Moore, who was a high volume but low efficiency player for a few years before 2023. His catch rate in 2021-22 was a combined 56%, but I speculated last offseason that was possibly due to the poor cast of QBs Moore had throwing him the ball in Carolina. It turns out that improved QB play did indeed improve Moore’s efficiency, and we can hope that will continue going forward as Moore develops a chemistry with Caleb Williams.
    • Keenan Allen has consistently had a high catch rate for a while, as he caught 70% of targets in 2021-22 and has been at 68% or higher for 6 straight seasons.
  • Part of what made DJ Moore so good in 2023 was that he coupled the high catch rate with a strong yards/catch mark, which is really hard to do. This led to him being among the most efficient WRs in the NFL overall, with an extremely high yards/target mark.
    • This was also a big jump for Moore from past seasons; he averaged a pretty poor 7.3 yards/target in 2021-22. We have pretty clear evidence it was driven by QB play, as he averaged 7.7 yards/target from Tyson Bagent and 10.8 yards/target from Fields last year. The QBs in Carolina in 2021-22 were more in line with Bagent, but Caleb Williams should be more in line with Fields.
  • Allen, on the other hand, is more of a possession receiver. He catches a lot of balls, but his yards/catch mark is not very high, which gives him a pretty average overall efficiency in yards/target.
    • This is consistent over multiple years, as Allen averaged only 11 yards/reception and 7.7 yards/target in 2021-22, and we can’t blame it on the QB either, since Justin Herbert is one of the better passers in the NFL.
  • We see the possession trends pop up as well in the explosive play rate (gains of 20+ yards), where Allen is below average. He’s not going to be a huge big-play threat, but he’s going to catch a lot of the passes thrown his way, which still gives him value.
  • DJ Moore, on the other hand, is a big-play threat, as he was among the league leaders in producing explosive plays per target. This is consistent with what we have seen from him for years, and should be expected to continue.


Let’s move now to thinking about WRs in the slot. This section is primarily going to focus on Keenan Allen, since he’s the only WR of the big 3 who is likely to spend much time there. All data presented here comes from Pro Football Focus (PFF).

  • In 2023, Allen lined up in the slot for 59% of his snaps, compared to 19% for DJ Moore and 17% for Rome Odunze.
    • That matches trends from 2020-22, where Allen was in the slot 56% of the time, more than twice as frequently as Moore (22%) or Odunze (26%).
  • That translates to slot targets. Allen saw 69 targets on routes run from the slot last year, more than Moore (36) and Odunze (18) combined.
    • Once again, that continues trends from past years, as Allen averaged 71 slot targets per season, while Moore (33) and Odunze (28) were much lower.
  • Thus it’s reasonable to expect that Allen will spend much of his time in the slot in Chicago, and will see many of his targets from the slot.

With that in mind, let’s look at how effective Allen was operating out of the slot last year. The table below shows how Allen fared in a variety of stats compared to 39 players (WR/TE combined) with 40+ targets out of the slot. Like above, the top 25% of values are highlighted in green, and the bottom 25% in red, and the best, average, and worst values from the sample are given.

A few thoughts:

  • Allen ends up being around average in most of these stats, with two notable exceptions.
  • First, the good: Allen’s 77% catch rate was 11th of 39, well above the NFL average.
    • This was not a one-year fluke either, as Allen had a 75% catch rate out of the slot in 2021-22.
    • Like we saw with overall efficiency above, Allen is a consistently reliable WR who is going to turn a high rate of his targets into catches.
  • Now the bad: Allen was not very good at picking up yards after the catch (YAC).
    • This is also consistent with past years, as he averaged 4.0 YAC/catch out of the slot in 2021-22.
  • Overall, this continues to paint a picture of a possession WR who is not explosive. Allen will catch the ball, but once he does, he’s not going to do a whole lot with it.
    • This actually complements DJ Moore really well, as Moore is a big play waiting to happen.

Man vs. Zone

Finally, let’s end today with a look at how Moore and Allen produced vs. man and zone coverage. The table below shows a variety of stats for each player against each type of coverage, along with how they rank compared to 54 WRs with 75+ targets in 2023. All data presented here comes from Pro Football Focus (PFF), who track stats a little differently than the official NFL ones, which is why the sample size is slightly smaller here than for overall efficiency above. Like above, the top 25% of values are highlighted in green, and the bottom 25% in red, and the best, average, and worst values from the sample are given.

(side note: if the table gets cut off in your browser, click on it to view it in full in a separate page).

A few thoughts:

  • DJ Moore ate man coverage for lunch in 2023. He was among the most frequently targeted WRs against man in the NFL, and was one of the best when targeted in pretty much every stat.
    • The high target rate against man coverage translates for Moore from past years, but the efficiency is new. Moore saw a target every 3.3 routes against man in 2022, but only posted a 52% catch rate and 8.3 yards/target. Once again I am attributing this increased efficiency to improved QB play, and hoping that will continue with Caleb Williams.
  • When we switch over to zone, Moore was targeted much less frequently, and saw much more average production when targeted.
    • Again, this matches trends from past years, as Moore was only targeted every 5.1 routes against zone in 2022.
    • Man plays to Moore’s strengths as a big play threat. Look at his high air yards/target and catch against man. It can be harder to get deep vs. zone, and easier to roll coverage towards the teams’ top WR, which Moore always has been, so he tends to be less productive in these situations (though still producing reasonably well).
  • Keenan Allen, on the other hand, is among the most frequently targeted WRs against zone coverage. This works well with his possession game, as his savvy route running on short to intermediate routes translates to zone coverage nicely.
    • It’s worth noting that Allen’s target frequency was much higher against man in 2022 (3.2 routes/target), while his zone volume was more average (4.7 routes/target).
    • We see here again that Allen maintains a high catch rate regardless of coverage, but his work against man coverage generally stays more underneath than most WRs.
    • We also see Allen struggling to gain yards after the catch (YAC) against both man and zone, just like he did in the slot.
  • It’s worth taking a brief glance at Rome Odunze’s college profile to see how he was utilized in Washington last year. Odunze’s man profile actually matches up with Moore’s quite nicely.
    • He was targeted at a very high rate (2.9 routes/target) and saw a lot of deep passes (19.5 air yards/target) against man coverage. This resulted in a lot of big plays (17.6 air yards/catch).
    • Odunze was utilized less often against zone, seeing a target every 4.1 routes. To put it another way, he saw 43% of Washington’s WR targets against man coverage and 36% against zone.
    • He posted a higher catch rate against zone (68%) than man (58%), but that’s still not a super high rate of catching passes. Rather, he was a big play threat, much like Moore. Those two should complement Allen’s possession-style game quite nicely.

Final Thoughts

This post is getting a bit long, so we’ll stop there for today. Stay tuned tomorrow for a look at how the WRs fared with targets to different depths of the field, on 3rd/4th down, and in the red zone.

In the meantime, here are the main takeaways from today:

  • All told, Chicago’s WRs complement each other nicely:
    • Keenan Allen is a possession WR who will catch a lot of targets but won’t produce a ton of big plays. He doesn’t produce much after the catch, but has proven to be consistent and reliable at a high volume against both man and zone coverage.
    • DJ Moore is an explosive play waiting to happen. This often leads to lower catch rates, but he’s one of the best WRs in the NFL if the jump in that area in 2023 is sustainable due to improved QB play. He especially likes man coverage, when his speed and athleticism allows him to make big plays down the field.
    • Rome Odunze’s profile seems to match that of Moore’s fairly well, at least based on how he was used in college. He should be expected to see a lot of downfield passes against man coverage.
  • Those complementary skill sets also translate to where they line up, as Allen plays about 60% of his slots in the snap, while Moore and Odunze have both played about 80% of their snaps out wide. That should be the default arrangement when the Bears are in 3 WR sets, though all 3 players have shown the ability to play in the slot or out wide to some extent.

Tagged: , , , , ,