New York Giant wide receiver Kenny Golladay had a tough first season after signing as a free agent, and all eyes are on him to see if he can turn the tide in 2021. NBC’s Peter King was at camp Giants practice on Friday, and he had this to say about Golladay, according to NBC Sports Pro Football Talk:
“The Giants expect to see more from their $18 million-a-year free agent in 2021, Kenny Golladay, which does not separate well from the DBs at the start of camp. This signing looks like a disaster.”
Does Golladay really get less separation than other wide receivers? Is separation necessary for a wide receiver to be successful?
No need for separation anxiety
Here are the worst receivers in separation distance (SEP, fourth column) in yards for the 2021 season from NFL Next Gen Stats:
Ouch! Everyone agrees that Golladay’s inaugural season as a giant was mediocre, and indeed he was tied for the NFL’s worst receiver in separation at 1.7 yards. The chart shows that the five worst separated receivers had bad seasons, with less than 600 receiving yards and no more than 3 touchdowns. To put that into context, Rondale Moore of the Cardinals led the NFL in average separation to an incredible 5.7 yards.
But here are the next five worst receivers in separation:
We don’t hear too many complaints about the poor separation of Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Kyle Pitts and DeVonta Smith last season. Maybe, you say, it’s working for them, they’re productive with little separation, but apparently it’s not working for Golladay. Let’s look at the 10 worst split receivers of the 2019 season:
Once again, Golladay was the worst in the NFL to get a split, just like in 2021. One small difference, though: In 2019, Golladay had 1,190 receiving yards, seventh-most in the NFL, and 11 touchdowns. , which led the NFL. It was the season that probably convinced Dave Gettleman to sign him in free agency. Two of Golladay’s touchdowns came against the Giants. Here they are (screenshots of YouTube/Fox NFL/Detroit Lions):
The first TD is a contested hold with virtually no separation, and on the second it has maybe 2 yards of separation.
Golladay is not alone. Julio Jones had a monster 2019 season with 1,394 receiving yards and six touchdowns, but just 2.2 yards severance average, eighth-worst in the NFL. DeVante Parker of dolphins had 1,202 yards and nine touchdowns but only 2.1 yards separation. Darius Slayton of the Giants, in what everyone considered a very promising rookie season, had 740 yards and eight touchdowns, but only averaged 2.2 yards of separation.
Contested Hold Winners in Today’s NFL
What “separates” these successful low-separation receptors from their counterparts? Answer: They are usually big, 6 feet or more, and can win contested catches. In 2019, Golladay was sixth in the NFL among wide receivers with at least 50 targets with a disputed catch rate of 63.4%, according to Focus on professional football. (League leader 6-3 Michael Thomas had a disputed catch rate of 67.6%.) In 2021, however, Golladay’s disputed catch rate has dropped to 48.4%. This, in addition to or as a result of his injuries, seems to be the main reason why Golladay’s 2021 season has failed.
The disputed catch rate is also not the complete answer. Ja’Marr Chase only had a contested catch rate of 38.9% in his standout rookie season despite his low average split. That may say something about the accuracy of the passes thrown at him. Joe Burrow led the NFL in passes on target at 82.8% in 2021, while Daniel Jones was 18th at 76.1%, according to Professional Football Reference. Without forgetting the matches played by Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm.
There is also another consideration to take into account. Golladay wasn’t the only giant to lose these contests last season. Slayton, who had a contested catch rate of 48.0% in his rookie year, fell to 31.8% in 2020 and then to an abysmal 12.5% in 2021. That’s yet another stat Giants offense that dwindled from Pat Shurmur’s final year as Giants coach to the two-year Joe Judge/Jason Garrett regimes.
Does this suggest that the type of offense a team executes (e.g. route designs, play call sequences) affects the ability of some receivers to perform? Maybe. Consider Sterling Shepard. His contested catch rate went from 39.1% and 42.1% in 2018 and 2019 under Shurmur, to 53.8% and an incredible 72.7% in 2020 and 2021 under Judge/Garrett. Kadarius Toney, in his only season to date, had a pretty good contested catch rate of 55.6%.
Golladay’s average depth of target (ADOT) decreased from 16.1 to 14.2 meters between 2019 and 2021. Slayton’s ADOT decreased from 14.4 to 13.4 meters. Shepard’s ADOT went from 10.2 to 7.9 yards. Those differences don’t seem huge, but Golladay’s 2019 ADOT was the 10th highest in the NFL while his 2021 ADOT would have been 21st in 2019. Maybe Shepard’s quickness is best exploited on short runs. while Golladay and Slayton’s skills are more suited to longer runs. routes. If so, it will be interesting to see how the shift to another offensive philosophy in 2022 changes those numbers and the success of individual receivers.
A response to the two-tier security trend?
The decrease in ADOT from the Shurmur years to the Judge/Garrett years could also be a response to the league-wide trend toward two high security looks (Cover-2, Cover-2 Man, Cover-4, Cover -6) like NFL defensive coordinators try to limit explosive passing plays. For example, no team saw two-top coverage more than 42% of the time in 2018, but by the middle of the 2021 season, only five teams had faced two-top coverage less than 40% of the time, according to TWSN.
If so, then route concepts such as “smash” or “flood” that attempt to bring safeties into conflict with high-low or high-medium-low route combinations can open receivers wide. on intermediate or deep routes depending on how security responds, as discussed by Mark Schofield on the BBV pages and somewhere else. Such combinations should be a staple of the Giants offense under Mike Kafka and Brian Daboll.
Who knows, maybe Golladay can become league leader in separation in 2022?