Which NFL receivers are best at catching long passes?

By MARK SIMON
Yesterday, we looked at which quarterbacks are best and most prolific when it comes to throwing deep passes. Today, let’s look at which receivers are the best at catching them.

Note that for our purposes, unless otherwise noted, we’re referring to passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield.

Who is targeted on them most often?
Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill is one of the NFL’s best-known deep targets, so it’s not surprising that he’s No. 1 here with 31 deep ball targets. He’s also tops in receptions with 14. Antonio Brown ranks second with 28 targets, but had only nine deep receptions. Brandin Cooks of the Rams ranks second in receptions with 11. He led the NFL with 16 in 2017. DeAndre Hopkins, Adam Thielen, and Tyler Lockett each have 10 receptions.

Most Targets – Passes At Least 20 Yards Downfield (Rec in Parentheses)
Tyreek Hill Chiefs 31 (14)
Antonio Brown Steelers 28 (9)
John Brown Ravens 26 (7)
Julio Jones Falcons 26 (8)
Davante Adams Packers 25 (8)
Most Receptions – Passes At Least 20 Yards Downfield (Att in Parentheses)
Tyreek Hill Chiefs 14 (31)
Brandin Cooks Rams 11 (23)
DeAndre Hopkins Texans 10 (21)
Adam Thielen Vikings 10 (17)
Tyler Lockett Seahawks 10 (12)

Who is most efficient in catching deep balls?
Lockett has a number that will amaze you. He ranks tied for 32nd with 12 deep targets, but has 10 receptions, for a completion percentage of 83 percent. That’s remarkable given that the average throw at least 20 yards downfield has a 37 percent completion percentage, meaning an average player would catch 4.4 deep throws out of 12. Lockett’s success is more than double that. last season, he caught 5-of-17 throws of that length. In 2016, he snagged 8-of-14. Back to 2018, the next-best players percentage wise, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Tyler Boyd, are 7-of-11 (64 percent).

Also of note on Lockett. He’s second in the NFL in touchdown receptions on long passes. His six are one fewer than Antonio Brown.

Hill’s 14-of-31 is good for 45 percent, which puts him above average. The other four players with at least 25 targets have a below-NFL average completion percentage: Antonio Brown (32 percent), Julio Jones (31 percent), John Brown (27 percent) and Davante Adams (32 percent).

Who is most and least surehanded?
Three players have at least 10 receptions on deep throws without a drop: Cooks (11), Thielen (10) and Lockett (10). In contrast, John Brown has seven receptions, but could easily have more. He leads the NFL with four drops on deep passes.

So who turns out to have performed best overall?
For this question, we’re going to use Expected Points Added (EPA). That’s the value that the receiver’s targets accumulated in terms of changing the team’s scoring expectation.

The dozen passes targeting Lockett added 31.4 points to the Seahawks’ expected point totals on those throws. That’s the highest EPA for any player in the NFL this season. Hill ranks second as his many targets have led to enough receptions that the expected points total for the Chiefs has increased by 24.5 points. That’s a smidge better than Mike Evans.

So, even though his sample is small, Lockett has been the best at churning out receptions on long passes this season. And as we showed yesterday, his teammate Russell Wilson tops the quarterbacks list.

Most Expected Points Added – Passes At Least 20 Yards Downfield
Targets
Tyler Lockett Seawhawks 31.4 12
Tyreek Hill Chiefs 24.5 31
Mike Evans Buccaneers 24.4 19
JuJu Smith-Schuster Steelers 24.1 13
Tyrell Williams Chargers 19.1 12
Adam Thielen Vikings 18.9 17

 

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