Pass Targets 3: What all this might mean for 2008

Those of you who read my first and second posts on pass targets probably came away with one basic question: what the heck does this mean for 2008? Well, I’ll finally take a stab at answering that question.
The most interesting thing in the second post was that the new receivers in 2007 just picked up receptions that were freely available. That probably was in part because there were lots of targets available. This year, not so much. These are the guys who caught passes in 2007 who aren’t currently on the Titans roster:
Barclay 0.4%
Brown 4.0%
Hartsock 4.5%
Moulds 11.5%
Troupe 2.4%
To this mix, the Titans have added the following potential pass-catchers:
TE Dwayne Blakley
TE Alge Crumpler
WR Lavelle Hawkins
RB Chris Johnson
WR Justin McCareins
TE Craig Stevens
WR Paul Williams
It doesn’t seem like going out on much of a limb to guess those 7 guys could easily be the target of more than the 22.8% of passes that are now “available.” Of course, target % is a zero-sum game. That means that somebody who was targeted for passes last year ain’t going to be this year. Leading candidates?
1. Bo Scaife. WHY he might lose targets: Targeted for 16.0% of passes in 2007, second-most on the team. A 6th round pick, and watching him reflects that approximate level of talent. Added Alge Crumpler, plus Blakley and Stevens. WHY he might not: Long relationship and apparent level of trust with VY. Titans threw about 25% of passes to the TE in 2007; doesn’t seem unreasonable to expect that figure to rise in 2007. The production history of TEs as old and with as many miles as Crumpler is short and sorry. I’m not in charge of the Titans.
2. Roydell Williams. WHY he might lose targets: As noted in the second targets post, really came out of nowhere in 2007, raising possibility he could return to nowhere easily. Worst catch percentage among Titans’ top 4 WRs last year. Target % slightly inflated due to Collins focusing on him (19.0% aggregate v. 18.1% VY-only). WHY he might not lose targets: Came off bottom of depth chart to lead team in targets, receptions, yards in 2007. Collins’ seeming perception of him as team’s best WR (an example of revealed preference by insider with superior information). Didn’t really get that many targets for a #1 WR.
3. Justin Gage. Virtually the same analysis as Gage. VY’s favorite target last year, far surpassing his previous career highs. Gage and Roydell this year will be very interesting examples of what VY’s play is like when his leading receivers are back; from 2006 to 2007, his #1 and #4 receivers left and #3 missed a substantial part of the year. 2005 to 2006 was college to pros, and nobody was on both teams. 2004 to 2005, his top two WRs, Tony Jeffrey and Bo Scaife, exhausted their eligibility. Comparing 2004 to 2005, virtually all of the passes to TE Bo Scaife ended up going to TE David Thomas, doubling his reception total (on ~23% more attempts by VY). The other beneficiary was deep threat Billy Pittman, who averaged 22.1 yards on 34 receptions. Granted, it’s college, but those are Greg Cook-esque numbers.
The question, then, is who on the Titans might play that role? Chris Johnson does have excellent speed, but his experience playing wideout is limited, and there’s more to playing WR at the NFL level than running fast (shhh, don’t tell the delusional Bear fans in love with Hester). I don’t really see any other obvious candidates. If, as it looks like, the Titans will do more QB movement, I’d expect to see Johnson get more receptions than the 4% Brown was targeted for last year; if the Titans go back to 2006 and throw about 18% of passes to backs, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Johnson end up with around as many targets as White or Jones had last year (6.3-7.3%).
RB is the only position I feel confident making much of a prediction at, though; the others will depend on who wins the position battles and who’s buried on the depth chart or cut. That is where the receptions for the new players will come, and that question, alas, won’t be answered for another couple months.
I’ll probably continue mucking around with target data for past years over at my site, if you’re interested. I have gamebooks dating back to 2002 right now, so I may come up with some half-decent information on what a Mike Heimerdinger offense might look like. This concludes your little discursion here into the wonder of pass targets, though I may revisit the topic next offseason (and all the remaining readers run screaming into the night).
UPDATE (5/13/08, 0039): Uh, I meant revealed preference when I put “restricted choice”. Fixed.

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