As the Detroit Lions’ offense seeks improvement, Football Outsiders has a stat area where they can clearly get better.
The Detroit Lions‘ offense showed signs of life late last season, and having all key pieces healthy will only be helpful in 2022. In many aspects, things can only be better this year.
Bryan Knowles of Football Outsiders has authored a piece centered on a stat called YAC +. In detailed terms, it measures how many yards after the catch a receiver gained compared to what would be expected of an average receiver catching passes of the same length in similar down-and-distance situations.
In the simplest terms, it’s “yards after the catch over expectation” based on depth of target and down and distance. Knowles acknowledged it’s not a flawless stat, as few stats are flawless, but overall it is informative.
"This is imperfect—we don’t base YAC+ on what route a player runs, and obviously a go route will have more YAC than a comeback—but it does a fairly good job of telling you if this receiver gets more or less YAC than other receivers with similar usage pattern"
YAC+ shows area Detroit Lions offense can improve
Looking first at wide receivers in 2021, a Lion made the top-20 in YAC+. Kalif Raymond posted a +0.5 YAC+ last year, and he was one of 10 among those 20 to with an average depth of target over 10.
Shifting to the YAC+ rankings for tight ends last year, narrowed to the top and bottom-15, T.J. Hockenson came in 49th among 55 qualifiers with a -1.1 YAC+. Que the jokes about Hockenson falling down after he catches a pass, with data seeming to prove it out. Based purely on the volume of targets he got, only playing 12 games last year, Hockenson would drag down a team-wide YAC+ for the Lions.
But he was not alone.
Moving to running backs, narrowed to the top and bottom-15 again, Lions running back Jamaal Williams came in 53rd among 57 qualifiers (-1.2 YAC+).
YAC+ for quarterbacks is more a product of system, design and the talent around them than any indication of skill–good or bad. With an average depth of target that was lowest among the qualifying group (6.6), Jared Goff had a 0.0 YAC+ and ranked 14th among the 34 qualifying signal callers with a couple other metrics included for added context.
The Lions’ offense can clearly get better in yards after the catch. Play design from offensive coordinator Ben Johnson is a starting point, and the signs are good there after he became passing game coordinator late last year. From that, big plays, moving the chains more effectively and scoring more points can and should follow.