The cost of incompletions and why A.J. Green is Overrated

-By Hugo

I recently had a discussion about incompletions with the estimable Neelix, and the Lady Northshore. After some thought and some research using in-house resources this is my “response”, so to speak.
The conventional metrics by which wide receivers are evaluated are yards and catches. However, I’d like to add a third perspective – the context of expected points added. Here we use the Pro-Football-Reference definition: EP measures the average number of future net points we would expect to be produced on the very next scoring play of the game (regardless of which team does the scoring).
For example, 1st and 10 at your own 20 is worth 0.277 expected points. Because historically, for every 1,000 times an NFL team has been in that situation, they have come up with 277 pts to show for it.
So, a when a ball is thrown to a receiver, there is a change in expected points between before the play happened and after the play happened. This difference is the expected points added for that particular play.

Here are the NFL leaders in Expected Points Added at the Wide Receiver position in 2013. Min. 100 targets:

This list at the top reads largely like the who’s-who of catching oblong leather spheroids. Calvin Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Antonio Brown, Desean Jackson. One name sticks out near the bottom of the list, however. To take a closer look, I added some more columns to our table:


As you can see here, Expected Points Added tells us that completions to A.J. Green had a major positive effect on the probable score differential – but incompletions to A.J. Green had a major negative effect on the probable score differential.
I’m not saying that AJ Green is not extremely good at catching round objects. He is.
What I’m saying is – on a stat sheet, an incompletion is just that. But in the context of an actual football game, just like every completion has different benefits, every incompletion has different consequences. This isn’t reflected in conventional metrics.
So the question is this. If, in spite of many external factors, we are to accept a completion as a credit to the receiver making it, and in proportion to the gain, why do we not accept the incompletion as a responsibility of the receiver not making it? Why do we not attempt to quantify the proportional loss that the incompletion – or worse, interception – exposed the team to?

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