A Tight Look at the 2023 Tight Ends, Part II: Depth, Downs & Dimensions

| June 13th, 2023

In Part I, we saw that both Cole Kmet and Robert Tonyan are used more against zone than man coverage, and today we’re going to look at their involvement in the passing game through a number of other lenses.

Targets by Depth

Let’s start by looking at how frequently and effectively Chicago’s tight ends were targeted at various depths of the field. The table below shows their stats compared to 29 NFL tight ends with 50+ targets in 2022. Areas where they ranked in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while areas in the bottom 25% are highlighted in red. 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:

  • The first thing that stands out is that both Kmet and Tonyan were heavily targeted on screen passes behind the line of scrimmage. Kmet in particular was good at converting these into yards by running well with the ball after the catch, a skill that he also showed in 2021 and the Bears did a good job of utilizing more frequently in 2022.
  • Looking at Kmet beyond the line of scrimmage, he was rarely targeted in the intermediate range, but he was highly productive there when targeted. This closely matches Justin Fields’ passing profile in 2022, so hopefully Fields can target that area more aggressively in 2023 and Kmet can benefit.
  • Part of that improving talent comes from Tonyan, who excelled in the short game but didn’t do much down the field.
    • The downfield struggles are a distinct change from 2020, when 35% of Tonyan’s targets were at least ten yards downfield and he caught 75% of those passes for 16.1 yards/target.
    • Like we said in Part I, 2023 will be year two after his knee injury, which is when many players return closer to their pre-injury norms, and 2020 (pre-injury) Tonyan was a significantly better player than the 2022 version.

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A Tight Look at the 2023 Tight Ends, Part I: Total Usage & Man v. Zone

| June 12th, 2023

All of a sudden, the Bears’ TE room looks fairly stacked, as they return Cole Kmet – who led the team in receiving in 2022 – and added veteran Robert Tonyan as their TE2. As you can see in the table below, this gives Chicago two TEs who put up starting-caliber volume in 2022.

Of course, volume isn’t everything.

It is also worth exploring how efficient a player was with the targets they received. The table below shows some basic efficiency stats for Kmet and Tonyan in 2022, as well as ranks relative to the 29 NFL tight ends who saw at least 50 targets. The spread of outcomes for those 29 players is also shown to give more context overall. Any areas where a player ranked in the top 25% are highlighted in green, while the bottom 25% are highlighted in red. The table also includes Kmet’s stats from 2020 and 2021 to see how his efficiency has changed throughout his career.

A few thoughts:

  • Kmet saw his volume drop from 93 to 69 targets in 2022, but his efficiency skyrocketed. This shows both Kmet’s growth as a player and a new offensive scheme that aligns with his skill set.
    • As we saw when looking at Jusin Fields earlier this offseason, the Bears used play action far more in 2022 than they did in 2021, and that deception was able to help free Kmet and mask his athletic deficiencies as a route runner. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to stats on play action for receivers, but this film study with Kmet shows a number of his big plays from 2022 coming when he was uncovered due to play action.
    • With the addition of DJ Moore this offseason, plus the return to health of Chase Claypool and Darnell Mooney, it’s reasonable to assume Kmet will be farther down the receiving order in 2023. He might see a decrease in total targets for a 2nd year in a row, but an efficient secondary weapon in the passing game can be extremely valuable.

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Fields in Focus (8/8): Final Takeaways and the Future Outlook

| May 12th, 2023

Today is the last of eight articles taking a closer look at Justin Fields’ 2022 season.

Lessons Learned

Let’s start with a brief recap of some of the main takeaways from the series so far:

  • Fields experienced moderate growth as a passer from his rookie season but did not make “the leap” that you typically see from great quarterbacks in year two.
  • Fields shows very clear strengths (throwing the ball deep, running) and weaknesses (short, quick passes and taking too many sacks). This leads to plenty of big plays but also far too many negative ones.
  • Evaluating Fields becomes difficult due to the poor supporting cast around him.
    • This especially showed up with the offensive line in the pressure data. Fields is always going to be a quarterback who holds the ball for a bit longer than most, meaning that he is particularly dependent on a quality offensive line to make that style work.
    • This showed up most clearly with the pass catchers when looking at how bad Chicago’s non-Mooney WRs were against man coverage. Nobody else was able to get open, and Chicago’s entire offense suffered as a result.

Year Three Growth

Now let’s look at how Fields compares to a trio of recent QBs who had year three breakouts: Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa, and Josh Allen. The table below shows their statistics in year two vs. year three of their careers, and Justin Fields’ data for year two in 2022.

A few thoughts:

  • Looking at the other three QBs, I don’t think Tua Tagovailoa is a very good comparison. He doesn’t use his legs much and is generally a shorter passer with a high completion percentage. His year three breakout was driven by a new coach/offense and pushing the ball deeper (his average target depth increased from 7.0 yards to 9.6 yards), and none of that is related to Fields.
  • Hurts and Allen, on the other hand, are pretty similar stylistically to Fields in that they hold the ball longer and push the ball down the field, which generally results in a lower completion percentage. Their year two stats line up pretty well with Fields’, with the exception of Fields being sacked significantly more.
    • Improvement for both in year three coincided with them taking more of the easy stuff. According to PFF, Allen and Hurts both increased their rate of short throws (54% to 58% for Allen, 52% to 61% for Hurts) and decreased their deep shots (15% to 13% for Allen, 16% to 13% for Hurts). They didn’t completely change their play style but became a bit more willing to take the easy yards underneath, which helped them complete more passes, gain more yards per attempt, and avoid more interceptions. Fields had a similar year 2 passing profile (55% passes behind the line or short, 16% deep), and he should look to make those same changes in 2023.
    • Hurts and Allen both saw their rushing efficiency decrease in year three compared to year two, which is also a reasonable expectation for Fields after his rushing came close to setting NFL records last year. This study found that running QBs often see passing efficiency improve in year three, and that these QBs become less dependent on needing to use their legs as they become more effective through the air.

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Fields in Focus (7/8): Man vs. Zone

| May 11th, 2023

Today is the seventh of eight articles taking a closer look at Justin Fields’ 2022 season.

All data comes from Pro Football Focus (PFF) unless otherwise noted, and Fields’ stats are only from week 5 on, as was explained in part one of this series.

General Overview

Let’s start with a general look at how Fields performed against man and zone coverage in 2022.

Before we get into the data, a quick caveat: PFF doesn’t publicly show this data by QB, but instead by pass catcher. I manually compiled it team by team to do comparisons, but it doesn’t include all throws. This accounts for roughly 90% of Fields’ total pass attempts. For the Bears, this data is only for the 11 games Fields started and played the majority of from Week 5 on.

With that said, the table below shows how Fields fared throwing against both man and zone compared to the NFL average (I couldn’t do the usual NFL high/medium/low since this wasn’t split up by QB). YBC = yards before catch, YAC = yards after catch.

A few thoughts:

  • First, the Bears saw a bit more zone coverage than was typical in the NFL last year. That makes sense given Fields’ running abilities, as zone will leave more defenders watching the QB and able to flow to the ball if he takes off.
  • Looking at the NFL averages, you can see that zone coverages generally give up more completions and yards per attempt but allow fewer touchdowns and result in more interceptions.
    • That was especially true for Fields, who threw more interceptions than touchdowns against zone but picked up an obscene touchdown rate against man coverage. I am going to tentatively credit the touchdowns to a good play caller who was able to scheme players open in the red zone, considering the struggles elsewhere against man coverage.
  • In terms of gaining yards efficiently, Fields’ yards/attempt mark was generally a bit better than typical against zone and a bit worse than typical against man.
    • The zone efficiency was largely driven by pushing the ball downfield, as his yards before catch mark was about 1.5 higher than the NFL average.
    • In man coverage, Fields’ average completion was actually shorter than the NFL average, which is a bit surprising considering Fields likes to throw the ball deep quite a bit. I would guess that speaks to Fields’ targets having trouble getting open down the field against man coverage, which would force more checkdowns.

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