Nate Washington had a career year in 2011.
Welcome to the Advanced Stat of the Week for the AFC South. This week we'll be discussing Catch Rate. Catch Rate is a deceptively simple stat that can lead to very wrong conclusions about wide receivers if misused.
I first encountered Catch Rate on the FootballOutsiders wide receiver pages. Catch rate is easy to calculate. Take the number of time a wide receiver catches the football and divide it by the number of times he is 'targeted' by the quarterback. Ratio of catches to targets is his catch rate.
Catch Rate = Receptions / Targets
Catch rate divorced from the overall context of a receiver's profile is meaningless. You can't simply say, "Wes Welker has a catch rate of 71 percent and Calvin Johnson has a catch rate of 61 percent." Without more information, you cannot judge the players at all using this stat.
However, if in addition to catch rate you add yards per reception, targets and quarterback overall completion percentage, you can get a more complete view of the skill set and effectiveness of the pass catcher.
Typically, when a receiver has a yards per reception number north of 15.0, their corresponding catch rate will be in the 50s. It makes sense when you think about it. The deeper the routes, the lower the probability that the pass will be completed. If a wideout has a high yards per catch, you don't worry about a lower catch rate.
In the case of Kenny Britt, his catch rate had hovered in the high 50s early in his career. This was a function of his incredible yards per reception total. He's a deep threat. To borrow a baseball metaphor, you don't expect the home run hitter to also bat .350.
But in 2011, that's exactly the kind of start Britt was off to. His yards per reception through three games was still right in his traditional wheelhouse of 17.0 yards a catch, but his catch rate was at 65 percent. That means he was still getting deep, but was catching a ridiculous ratio of passes. Simply put, he was playing the best football of his life.
Compare that to Damian Williams. His yards per reception was a respectable 13.2, but his catch rate was south of 50 percent. He only caught 48 percent of passes thrown his way. Again, this would be acceptable if he were getting open deep.
Comparing him to Nate Washington is illustrative. Washington had a higher yards per reception figure while also posting a dramatically higher catch rate. For the season, Titans quarterbacks completed just over 60 percent of their passes for 11.7 yards a completion.
Williams and Lavelle Hawkins make for a nice comparison as well. Hawkins had a much higher catch rate, but a much lower yards per reception. Neither player was able to combine a good catch rate with a good yards per catch number. It's not surprising that Hawkins and Williams rated as two of the least valuable wideouts in football while Washington and Britt graded out well above average.
Since joining the Titans, Washington had catch rates hovering at or below 50 percent. His catch rate spiked in 2011, but his yards per reception dropped. This signals a change in the way Washington was used. No longer strictly a burner, Washington developed into a more complete receiver, and posted career highs in yards, catches and touchdowns.
Used properly, catch rate can tell us how effective a wideout is at getting open and catching the ball. In this case, it shows us that the Titans' quarterbacks had success with their higher quality wide receivers, but the injury to Britt greatly hurt the Titans' offense by forcing more throws to substandard pass catchers.