Player Points - Antonio Gates
By Chase Stuart
July 7th, 2010

In 2009, Antonio Gates averaged an absurd 14.7 yards per reception, the most by any tight end with at least 50 receptions in over a decade. His teammates Vincent Jackson (17.2) and Malcolm Floyd (17.2) had high YPR averages for their positions, too. That all points to the conclusion that Philip Rivers has become the best vertical passer in the league: he led all passers for the second season in a row in yards per attempt, and his 13.4 yards per completion ratio in '09 was the highest by any quarterback since 2006. Thanks to the big play proficiency of Gates and Rivers, the star tight end had more receiving yards than any other player at his position in 2009. In fact, nearly 40% of Gates' receptions went for at least 15 yards, far above his career averages. The table below shows what percentage of Gates' receptions went for at least X yards in each of the past six seasons:

Year
10+
15+
20+
25+
30+
40+
2009
58%
39%
20%
11%
6%
1%
2008
48%
22%
10%
3%
2%
0%
2007
55%
28%
19%
9%
5%
1%
2006
55%
32%
20%
13%
4%
1%
2005
55%
30%
16%
4%
2%
0%
2004
46%
22%
15%
11%
1%
1%

At least 58% of Gates' grabs gained at least 10 yards in 2009, a sign that his foot is finally healed; in 2008, while he was suffering with a big toe injury, fewer than half of his receptions went for so many yards. All signs point to a healthy Gates having a big year in 2010, then, right?

But while Gates led all tight ends in receiving yards, his 78 receptions didn't put him in such elite territory. In fact, seven other tight ends caught at least 75 passes in 2009. So what matters more for Gates' future potential, his absurdly high YPR average and his commensurately high receiving yardage total or his strong-but-not-outstanding number of receptions?

I looked at all tight ends who finished in the top 15 in fantasy points in any season from 1988 to 2008 (I frequently use 1988 as a cut-off because it provides over 20 seasons of data, excludes all non-16 game seasons, and mostly corresponds to the modern passing game). I then excluded all tight ends who failed to play in at least 8 games in the next season; that left 287 tight ends. I then ran a regression analysis using those player's receptions per 16 games, receiving yards per 16 games, and receiving touchdowns per 16 games, to predict their performances in those categories in the following season. The results:

Receptions per 16 games in the next season

All three inputs passed standard significance tests when it comes to predicting this metric. The best fit-formula was

Receptions_per16games_YrN+1 = 2.9 + 0.40*Rec/16G + 0.033*Yd/16G + 0.86*TD/16G

This means a receiver with 60/700/7 in 16 games in season N would be projected for 56 receptions in season N+1, and that every 2.5 receptions, 30 yards or 1.16 touchdowns would make someone project one additional catch in the next season. The R^2 was 0.47, representing a reasonably strong correlation between this formula and actual, future production.

Receiving yards per 16 games in the next season

The receptions variable was *not* significant when projecting receiving yards during the next season. This is a good sign for Gates owners -- it means his low number of receptions relative to his receiving yards last year isn't a reason to expect him not to put up high receiving yardage numbers again (of course, in PPR leagues, he still may not be a reception monster). The best-fit formula was

RecYards_per16games_YrN+1 = 11.3 + 0.79*Yd/16G + 12.8*TD/16G

Essentially, this formula tells you to take 79% of the tight end's receiving yards from the prior year, and then give a 13-yard bonus for every touchdown he scored. The R^2 was also 0.47 for this regression.

Receiving touchdowns per 16 games in the next season

Once again, receptions were *not* predictive of future performance, in this case, the output variable being receiving touchdowns. The best fit formula was

RecTDs_per16games_YrN+1 = 0.12 + 0.004*Yd/16G + 0.27*TD/16G

This means a player with a statline of 960/11 in one year would be projected to score 7 touchdowns in the next season (with four touchdowns projected off of his receiving yards and only three based on his touchdown prowess in the prior year). The R^2 was only 0.20, telling you what every veteran fantasy player knows -- predicting touchdowns in the future is a lot harder than predicting yards.

For fun, I used this formula to predict the 2010 stats of all tight ends that finished in the top 15 last season, on the assumption that all will play in 16 games this year. The results, below:

Tight End
Tm
Gm
Rec
Yards
TDs
FPs
2010Rec
2010Yds
2010TDs
2010FPs
Dallas Clark
IND
16
100
1106
10
221.7
88.0
1013
7.2
188.8
Vernon Davis
SFO
16
78
965
13
213.5
77.1
940
7.5
177.5
Antonio Gates
SDG
16
79
1157
8
203.2
79.6
1028
6.9
184.0
Brent Celek
PHI
16
76
971
8
183.1
72.2
881
6.2
161.2
Tony Gonzalez
ATL
16
83
867
6
164.2
69.9
773
5.2
143.5
Jason Witten
DAL
16
94
1030
2
162.0
76.2
851
4.8
151.8
Kellen Winslow Jr.
TAM
16
77
884
5
157.6
67.2
774
5.0
141.0
Heath Miller
PIT
16
76
789
6
152.9
64.5
711
4.9
132.8
Visanthe Shiancoe
MIN
16
56
566
11
150.6
53.4
599
5.4
118.8
Greg Olsen
CHI
16
60
612
8
139.2
54.0
597
4.7
115.1
Zach Miller
OAK
15
66
805
3
131.5
62.1
731
4.4
130.6
Jermichael Finley
GNB
13
55
676
5
125.1
62.7
747
5.1
136.8
John Carlson
SEA
16
51
574
7
124.9
48.3
554
4.3
105.4
Todd Heap
BAL
16
53
593
6
122.0
48.8
557
4.1
104.7
Fred Davis
WAS
16
48
509
6
110.9
44.1
490
3.8
93.7

The results -- a useful starting point for your tight end projections -- aren't too surprising. Gates moves ahead of Davis, as his huge edge in receiving yards counts for more than Davis' big edge in touchdowns. Similarly, Jason Witten looks like a sleeper, while Visanthe Shiancoe looks like a bust. The formulas aren't very concerned with 2009 touchdown production, and maybe we shouldn't be, either.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to stuart@footballguys.com.