Since OBJ’s injury, a lot of Browns commentators have been saying something along these lines: now that the Browns no longer have a big yards-after-catch (YAC) guy to strike fear in the hearts of opponents, defensive-coordinators can focus on thwarting the Browns’ rushing attack. But if we look at the stats, we see that OBJ was nearly the worst pass-catcher in the league when ranked by YAC. You have to scroll all the way to the bottom of this chart to find him:
That’s right; OBJ ran for an average 2 yards after catching the ball. People probably have in mind OBJ’s 50-yard touchdown run against Dallas, but that was a rushing attempt, not a pass-reception. And that was a fluke. First, OBJ did his “running backwards” thing and was almost tackled for a big loss. Now, you might think that I’m being uncharitable by saying that, but the fact is that OBJ has never had a big running play like that. His previous best was a 13-yard run back in 2014. How many times could he have taken an end-around like that before defenses caught on? Probably not many.
Odell did better in 2019 with a 4.47 YAC, but that is still about half of what the elite guys do.
A couple of things to consider about YAC: if you catch a ball in the end-zone, your YAC is zero for the catch because there are no more yards to be gained. If you catch a toe-tapper at the sideline, your YAC will also be zero. If you have to dive, jump, twist around, etc. to catch the ball, then your YAC suffers as DBs are able to close on you. The ideal scenario is to catch the ball on the run with some separation on the DB. And that’s why YAC is computed for quarterbacks too.
In 2019, Baker Mayfield ranked at a stellar #8 in the league with an Average YAC of 5.7. See this page. However, here in 2020, with Coach Stefanski’s new “short ball” offensive scheme in place, Baker ranks near the bottom with an Average YAC of 4.0. So, OBJ is affected by that also. You could argue that this new scheme was a punishment for Baker and OBJ because they did poorly in 2019. Consequently, they were subsumed in a run-oriented scheme where Baker would be limited to short passes, and OBJ would be regulated to blocking for Nick Chub and Kereem Hunt.
Nevertheless, OBJ’s YAC for 2020 was still the worst on the team except for that of Rashard Higgins who only has one-third of OBJ’s targets. Hig also has a high proportion of TDs and toe-tappers.
YAC – Player
5.94 – Kareem Hunt
4.73 – Austin Hooper
4.42 – Jarvis Landry
4.38 – David Njoku
2.04 – OBJ
1.33 – Rashard Higgins
So, if YAC is what you want, Kareem Hunt is your man. I’m sure Chubb would do well too if he got more targets.
Methodology: I compiled this data on November 3, 2020, which was the Tuesday after NFL Week 8. OBJ played weeks 1-6 before he was injured right at the beginning of Week 7’s game versus the Bengals on October 25, 2020. In the table above, I selected the top 100 receivers by total yards. Then I sorted them by Average YAC.
UPDATE: I have posted a YAC update for 2021 here.