The consensus around the NFL is that A.J. Green is a top 5 or 6 WR. Talent-wise he very well may be, but in terms of productivity he certainly isn’t. A quick look at his stats shows that he put up 2 great season where he finished in the top 10 in receiving yards and touchdowns after his great rookie year. In 2014 he had a decent year despite missing 4 games and being hampered by a toe injury. But if you look a little deeper you’ll find that A.J. Green isn’t that efficient and it prevents Green from being one of the most valuable receivers in the league.
The first thing I will look is A.J. Green’s catch rate compared to the other receivers on the Bengals. The catch rate is catches/targets, or what was the QBs completion percentage when throwing his way. I have also added deep ball % to account for the fact that it is much easier to have a good catch rate if you don’t go deep very often.
Name Catches Targets CR% Deep%
A.J. Green 69 116 59.5% 37.1%
Mohamad Sanu 56 98 57.1% 27.6%
A.J. Green 98 178 55.1% 29.8%
Marvin Jones 51 80 63.8% 23.8%
Mohamad Sanu 47 77 61.0% 23.4%
A.J. Green 97 164 59.1% 36.0%
Andrew Hawkins 51 80 63.8% 15.0%
The most interesting thing that pops out at me is Marvin Jones performance in 2013 compared to Green’s. Jones had a much better catch rate and was only targeted deep at a bit lower rate. The other interesting thing about Marvin Jones’ 2013 performance was that he averaged almost a whole yard more than Green per target. That was only one year, but even though he compares favorably to the his teammates he doesn’t fare as well to the rest of the league. For example I found 10 receivers who had a better catch rate along with a higher deep target percentage. I also found out that A.J. Green finished 25th in yards per target according to advancedfootballanalytics.com by Brian Burke. This shows me that A.J. Green is not as efficient as he needs to be to call himself a top 10 WR.
So after looking A.J. Green’s efficiency I figured that the next measure I would use is WPA and EPA. WPA and EPA stand for win probability added and expected points added. They give a way for us to translate how much of their performance translates into wins and points. Here we compare A.J Green value and compare it with the number 2 receiver on the team (in 2012 the Bengals didn’t have another receiver to compare with)
2014 WPA Rank EPA Rank
A.J. Green .58 x* 16.8 39th
Mohamad Sanu 1.39 23rd 41.9 26th
A.J. Green 1.09 33rd 20.9 17th
Marvin Jones .98 39th 44.5 34th
2014 WPA/G Rank EPA/P Rank
A.J. Green .05 x .13 x
Mohamad Sanu .09 23rd .34 27th
A.J. Green .07 35th .11 6th
Marvin Jones .06 36th .49 38th
*The site I use only ranks WPA up to 40 and Green wasn’t close to the .88 WPA needed to crack the list.
In 2012 Green had a decent year going 1.17 WPA and 36.4 EPA. good for 29th and 28th in the league respectively.
This time around 2014 jumps out at me. How on Earth was Sanu more valuable in general and per play than Green!?! It doesn’t make any sense to me. For the most part these stats agree with popular consensus on who the best players are, but this is just silly! Perhaps a look at Football Outsiders stats can give us a different opinion.
The stats Football Outsiders use for WRs (or any football player) are Defensive adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) and Defensive adjusted Value Over Replacement (DVOA). These stats try to determine value by different measures than Advance Football Analytics, you can read about more here ).
2014 DYAR Rank DVOA Rank
A.J. Green 155 29 3.8% 38
Mohammad Sanu 99 41 0.0% 43
2013 DYAR Rank DVOA Rank
A.J. Green 207 20 1.9% 41
Marvin Jones 279 11 32.4% 3
2012 DYAR Rank DVOA Rank
A.J. Green 215 22 4.1% 33
Andrew Hawkins 21 70 -9.2% 70
A lot of this confirms what we already know, A.J. Green is not as good as his raw stats suggest. While Football Outsiders has Green as the better receiver in 2014 he far less valuable than Jones was in 2013. (This is because he had a ridiculous fluky touchdown rate)
So why is this happening? Why are the stats telling us this? I believe these value based stats are lower than expected because A.J Green lacks the consistency other receivers in his tier supposed tier have. A.J. Green has about four games each season where he hurts the team. And in a lot of these games he’s hurting the team a lot. He has games where he has loads of targets but few receptions and fewer first downs. These types of games can quickly kill a wideouts WPA.
Another thing I noticed is that his first down per target ratio is a bit low compared to other comparable receivers. Perhaps Green stats are a bit bloated with 8 yard receptions on 3rd and 10. But overall A.J. Green is not as valuable on a per snap basis as it would seem.
But where does he rank among other receivers? That’s why I put this list of WRs who have been more valuable over the past 3 years than A.J. Green.
1. Antonio Brown- Top 10 in both EPA and WPA in the last two years. Plus has been Pro Football Focus’ top rated receiver the past two years.
2. Calvin Johnson- Struggled with injuries the last two years but was able to put up an excellent season last year and a good one this year. Oh and almost had 200 receiving yards in 2012.
3. DeMaryius Thomas- Let me be clear about this from the start. DeMaryius Thomas would be a great WR even without Peyton Manning. My evidence for that statement is that he is has been in the top 3 for WRs in YAC. (A stat that Green is particularly low in) Plus he finished second in EP in both 2012 and 2013.
4. Dez Bryant- I can’t find an advanced stat anywhere that Dez didn’t finish in the top 5 in last year.
5. Jordy Nelson- I know he has Aaron Rodgers, but his productivity is great. He’s consistent, (top 21 in EPA and WPA in the past 3 season) and has shown greatness. (Led league last year in EPA)
6. Anquan Boldin- First in WPA and EPA in 2013 by a wide margin. In fact Anquan Boldin created 20 more expected points in one season than Green did in his past 3. If you think it’s a fluke check his 2012 playoff performance, it reminds you how good of a receiver he is. In my opinion the most underrated receiver in the game.
7. Brandon Marshall- Struggled last year, but was great in 2012 and 2013 despite poor quarterbacking.
8. Julio Jones- A.J .Green’s draftmate is a bit better across the board.
9.DeSean Jackson- I used to think DeSean Jackson was just an injury-prone 1 trick pony, but then I learned just how valuable he was. 3rd in EPA in 2013, 2 straight top 12 seasons in WPA, all with sub par quarterbacking.
This is the list of WRs I could find that I’m certain were more valuable than A.J. Green in the past 3 years. They aren’t that surprising except for Boldin and Jackson. In my book Green ranks around 10-12th among receivers in value over the last 3 years, (Probably top 8 in the past 4) around guys like Vincent Jackson, Andre Johnson, (another receiver with inflated numbers), Randall Cobb (Has better stats in a couple of measures, but small sample size and having a great QB in Aaron Rodgers prevent him from being in the top 10).