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A Deep Dive into the WRs, Part II: Depth, Downs, and Red Zone

| May 21st, 2024

This is the 2nd part of a 2-part series exploring Chicago’s top trio of WRs, which includes accomplished NFL veterans DJ Moore and Keenan Allen to go with top 10 pick Rome Odunze.

In part one, we examined overall efficiency, production from the slot, and impact against man and zone coverage. Today, we will explore target depth, 3rd/4th down production, and usage in the red zone. Like in part one, data presented is for the NFL only, so Odunze will not be in tables, but I will try to provide context for his performance in these areas when possible.

Targets by Depth

Let’s start by examining how frequently and effectively Moore and Allen were targeted at different depths of the field. The table below shows this data split into four depths: behind the line of scrimmage, 0-9 yards downfield, 10-19 yards downfield, and 20+ yards downfield. A variety of production metrics are given in each depth, along with Moore and Allen’s ranks compared to the 54 WRs with 75+ total targets in 2023. Ranks in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while those in the bottom 25% are highlighted in red, and the high, average, and low values of the 54-player sample are shown for context. All data is from Pro Football Focus (PFF).

(Side note: sorry if the formatting is poor for the graph. You can click on it to see it in a new window in full if it’s not showing up right for you.)

A few thoughts:

  • My first observation is that Moore saw a huge amount of his targets behind the line of scrimmage.
    • This was new – he was around average at 11% over 2021-22 – and likely because the Bears ran a lot of screens in 2023. Moore was 7th in screen targets among NFL WRs, while Justin Fields threw a screen on 11% of his pass attempts. If you lower the minimum dropbacks, Tyson Bagent was at 16%, the highest rate in the league.
    • Seattle only ran screens on 9% of pass attempts in 2023, so we can expect fewer screens to DJ Moore – and in general – this year.
    • It does make sense to use Moore behind the line of scrimmage, though, as his explosion and athleticism allow him to do a solid job of picking up yards after the catch.
    • Keenan Allen, on the other hand, doesn’t get used all that much behind the line of scrimmage, which makes sense given his skill set. Like we noted in part 1, he struggles some at gaining yards after the catch (YAC), so throwing him the ball with the need to pick those up in order to avoid losing yards isn’t wise. This trend matches 2022 (9% of targets, 4.5 yards/target) and 2021 (10% of targets, 2.7 yards/target).
  • Looking at passes beyond the line of scrimmage, Allen sees a huge amount of targets in the short game (0-9 yards), but not much in the intermediate (10-19 yards) or deep (20+ yards) areas of the field.
    • This matches 2022 (57% short, 24% intermediate, 11% deep) and 2021 (51% short, 30% intermediate, 9% deep), so we should expect that to continue in Chicago.
    • This also matches what we saw in part one, as Allen consistently produces a high catch rate but fairly low yards/catch values, and doesn’t produce many explosive gains of 20+ yards. That’s the profile of a possession WR who sees more work underneath and less down the field.
  • DJ Moore has a very different profile in terms of where he is targeted, as his highest rates relative to his peers are behind the line of scrimmage and deep down the field – the very places where Allen is least targeted.
    • The high deep target rate is definitely consistent from year to year, as he saw 28% of his targets 20+ yards downfield in 2022 and 33% in 2021.
    • Moore’s efficiency on those passes is nothing special, but a high volume with average efficiency for explosive plays is extremely valuable.
  • Moore was also really good at short passes in 2023, which was a distinct switch from 2022, where he was among the least productive WRs in the NFL on these passes.
    • I have attributed much of his 2023 improvement to better QB play, but am unsure how much that applies in the short passing game, especially since this is an area where Justin Fields generally struggled.
    • I don’t know whether to expect this to continue or not, but will be watching closely in 2024 to see if it was a fluke or a sign of things to come.
  • Looking briefly at Rome Odunze’s college stats, we see a deep ball specialist.
    • Odunze saw a whopping 35% of his targets at least 20+ yards downfield, and averaged 15 yards/target on those passes. If that translates to the NFL, the Bears will have two elite deep weapons in Odunze and Moore, which should free up Keenan Allen to work effectively in the short game.
    • On the flip side, Odunze was rarely targeted behind the line of scrimmage, seeing only 6% of his targets there.
    • To put this in context relative to where his team threw the ball, Odunze saw 18% of his teams’ WR targets behind the line of scrimmage, around 35% of the WR targets in the short and mid ranges, and 49% of his teams’ WR targets that were 20+ yards downfield.

3rd + 4th Down

Let’s switch gears now to look at 3rd and 4th down, when stakes are high and players need to produce a first down to move the chains and avoid a punt. The table below shows how frequently and effectively Moore and Allen were targeted in these high-leverage situations in 2023. Data is from Pro Football Reference’s Game Play Finder, ranks are compared to the 59 NFL WRs with 75 or more targets, and ranks in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while those in the bottom 25% are highlighted in red.

A few thoughts:

  • That’s a lot of green. I like that.
  • Moore was a high-volume target on 3rd and 4th down, and was among the most effective WRs in the NFL at turning those targets into first downs.
    • This was a welcome improvement from 2021-22 in Carolina, when Moore saw 30% of his targets on 3rd/4th down and converted 45% of them in to 1st downs – roughly average volume and efficiency.
    • To look at the volume a little differently, Moore saw 35% of Chicago’s available targets on 3rd/4th down in 2023 compared to 25% on 1st-2nd down. In 2021-22, he saw pretty even splits in Carolina (29% of available targets on 3rd/4th down 28% on 1st/2nd down).
  • Keenan Allen saw average target volume on 3rd/4th down, but was very efficient turning those targets into 1st downs.
    • The efficiency matches what we saw in 2021-22 (52% of targets turned into 1st down), while the volume was actually appreciably higher (37% of overall targets).
  • This means the Bears have two strong options to look to on the money downs, which is awesome for a developing QB like Caleb Williams.
  • College football data is harder to come by, so I don’t know target rates, but Odunze was responsible for roughly 23% of all Washington receptions over the last 2 seasons, and 24% of 3rd down receptions, so there’s not much difference there.
    • He also converted 29 of 33 3rd down catches into 1st downs, which is excellent efficiency.

Red Zone

Finally, let’s take a look at Chicago’s WRs in the red zone in 2023. Once again, data is from the Game Play Finder, ranks are compared to the 59 NFL WRs with 75 or more targets, and ranks in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while those in the bottom 25% are highlighted in red.

A few thoughts:

  • The first thing that stands out is that both Moore and Allen were towards the bottom in frequency of targets in the red zone.
    • This is a consistent trend for Moore, as he also saw only 8% of his targets in the red zone across 2021-22.
    • Allen, on the other hand, saw 15% of his targets in the red zone across 2021-22, so he has functioned as a high volume red zone target in the past.
    • To look at volume a different way, Moore saw only 20% of the Bears’ targets in the red zone in 2023, compared to 30% outside of the red zone. He had fairly even splits in Carolina from 2021-22, seeing 26% of available targets in red zone and 28% outside of the red zone. Allen has also had even splits over the last 3 years, seeing 19% of available targets in the red zone and 20% outside of the red zone.
  • Both players are average to above average in efficiency when targeted, which also matches 2021-22 trends (35% of targets turn into 1st down or TD for Moore, 39% for Allen).
  • If neither Moore nor Allen really stands out in the red zone, this seems like an area where Rome Odunze could be helpful. After all, a big-bodied target like Odunze, who is 6’3″ and 212 pounds, should translate well to a compressed field situation.
    • Unfortunately, college stats don’t back this theory up. Again, the data available is not great, with no target numbers, but Odunze saw a significant dip in reception share in the red zone in his last 2 years at Washington. He posted 23% of available WR receptions overall, but only 17% of available receptions in the red zone.

Final Thoughts

Here are the main takeaways from today about Chicago’s WRs:

  • DJ Moore and Keenan Allen complement each other really well in terms of where they win and get targeted. Moore gets a high rate of targets behind the line of scrimmage and deep down the field, while Allen gets a huge rate of short passes and is infrequently targeted either behind the line of scrimmage or deep.
    • Rome Odunze’s college profile was hugely slanted to deep passes, while he was almost never used behind the line of scrimmage.
  • Moore and Allen have both proven to be highly capable chain movers on 3rd and 4th down, but neither is a high-volume red zone threat.
    • Odunze had no noticeable target share difference on 3rd down compared to 1st/2nd, but a noticeable lack of usage in the red zone.
    • All told, the one area that might be something of a weakness for Chicago’s WRs is in the red zone. Stay tuned for an upcoming look at tight ends, where we’ll explore whether Cole Kmet and Gerald Everett might be ready to serve as red zone weapons.

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