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Factoid

Dink and dunk

More offenses settling for short completions

I notice that passing offenses are changing. Teams are completing more passes, but they’re gaining fewer yards.

This became apparent when I was auditing and adjusting our yards-per-catch projections for players. That might not seem all that important, but it’s particularly important for PPR formats. If a player produces 60 receiving yards while averaging 15 yards per catch, that’s 10 fantasy points. If he puts up 60 yards while averaging 12 yards per catch, he’s worth an additional point (and 10 yards per catch would put him up another point).

In our player projection system, we project yards and touchdowns, making the yards-per-catch figures for individual players important (as that number is lowered, the player’s projected score rises in PPR formats). Hence the need to go in and carefully look at those numbers regularly. A player like Parris Campbell, for example, is capable of operating as a deep threat, but he can also be used as a slot-type guy, with a lower YPC.

Anyway, in looking at those numbers, I noticed that the vast majority of players were coming in much lower than I had projected in the preseason. Typically with tight ends, most tend to average 10-11 yards per catch. Three weeks in, I saw a bunch averaging 7 and 8 yards per reception. And a bunch of wide receivers were averaging under 9.

It was weird enough that I made a mental note to check the overall lay of the land, comparing what we’re seeing in 2023 against previous seasons.

The results were more severe than I expected. Players thus far are averaging only 9.8 yards per catch. That’s over a yard lower than any of the last 40 years. More surprising still in that teams are averaged 22.6 completions per game, which is the 2nd-highest number of the last 40 years.

With the emphasis on short passing, teams are averaging only 221 passing yards per game. That’s 34 fewer than three years ago. Despite averaging the 2nd-most completions of the last 40 years, this current season ranks only 29th in passing yards.

I believe this is being driven by some combination of offenses getting rid of the ball more quickly (trying to avoid sacks) and perhaps more defenses playing a bend-but-don’t-break style – making offenses patiently work the ball downfield.

Joe Burrow has been the most short-range of them all, averaging only 8.4 yards per completion so far. Three other teams are averaging fewer than 9: Giants, Panthers, Colts.

There likely will be some correction as the season progresses, but it’s also an indication the game is changing. Only three times previously have teams averaged under 11 yards per completion, and two of them happened the last two years. Back in the ‘80s, meanwhile, offenses averaged over 12.5 yards per completion every year – there were more successful long bombs. The game is changing before our eyes

PASSING AVERAGES (1984-2023)
YearRecYdsAvg
198418.0228.212.66
198517.7226.612.83
198617.9225.712.62
198717.6223.512.69
198817.1217.912.73
198917.9228.712.81
199016.9211.412.51
199117.9214.512.01
199217.2205.411.94
199318.6215.411.55
199419.5227.411.66
199520.2235.611.64
199619.2222.211.60
199718.4219.411.91
199818.3221.012.10
199919.3228.311.84
200019.1222.011.60
200119.2221.011.49
200220.1227.011.27
200318.9213.811.29
200419.1225.311.80
200519.1218.211.41
200619.1219.311.46
200720.4228.311.21
200819.7224.211.38
200920.3232.311.47
201020.5236.311.53
201120.4244.811.98
201221.2246.011.63
201321.7252.311.64
201421.9236.810.83
201522.5259.211.51
201622.5255.611.35
201721.2239.611.30
201822.4254.411.37
201922.1251.811.38
202023.0254.911.10
202122.3244.110.96
202221.4234.410.95
202322.6221.29.78

—Ian Allan

Fantasy Index