With the 2022 NFL season well behind us, fans have discussed who were some of the top pass catchers in the league last year. While names like Travis Kelce, Justin Jefferson, and Tyreek Hill dominated the conversation, digging deeper into the stats unveiled some very underrated pass catchers who have a case to have their names thrown into the conversation as well.
The NFL provides fans with Next Gen Stats, and one of them is the catch rate over expected (CROE) metric. To qualify for the list, players had to record 50 targets, 50 receptions, and 300 routes run. The metric measures the difficulty of each reception and uses things like separation of nearest defender, depth of target, and speed. Using the CROE to determine the league’s best pass catchers makes for a very interesting list with three unlikely players at the top of the list.
The player that ranked as the best pass catcher in the NFL in the 2022 season based on CROE is Richie James. James is a player that most NFL fans are not familiar with, however he had an incredibly efficient season last year.
Last season was James’s fourth year in the league. He spent his first three years playing for the San Francisco 49ers before joining the New York Giants for the 2022 campaign. During his season with the Giants last year, James would pull in 57 catches on 70 targets for 569 yards and four touchdowns. Along with this, he posted a league high CROE of +11%.
In the off-season, James would sign with the Kansas City Chiefs. With Kansas City having a very weak wide receiver room currently, there is a strong chance that the 2023 season could feature a breakout year from him.
George Pickens clocked in with the second highest CROE in the NFL last season at +10.6%. Pickens had an incredible rookie season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, pulling in 52 of his 84 targets for 801 yards and four touchdowns.
Pickens was arguably the best rookie receiver last season and proved to be a very valuable weapon for the Steelers. While the offense as a whole struggled through the 2022 season, Pickens was one of the few bright spots on the offensive side of the ball.
Early on in the season, the Steelers figured out that he was at his best when going for the deep ball. He was the only player in the league to run 200+ vertical routes. On average, a player’s CROE on these routes is -0.1%, however, Pickens’s CROE was +23.3% on his 231 go routes on the season.
Steelers fans are hoping that this is just the beginning for Pickens, and if he continues to develop his game, there is a strong chance he could be one of the most elite vertical threats in the league.
Mike Williams rounded out the top three as the pass catcher with the third highest CROE last season. Williams would suffer through injuries last season, playing only 13 of the team’s 17 games.
Despite this, he was extremely productive when he was on the field, recording 63 catches on his 93 targets for 895 yards and 4 touchdowns. Along with this, Williams would finish the season with a CROE of +9.5%.
Williams got a solid boost to his CROE percentage as a result of his ability to make tough catches with the defense blanketing him. He led all pass catchers on the Los Angeles Chargers in tight window targets, however, Williams proved himself as one of the top pass catchers in the league time and time again making these difficult plays.
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