When Jerome Simpson was brought back on yet another inexpensive one-year contract, I think most people saw it as a decent signing. The thinking being that Simpson can be a solid #3 in a Norv Turner offense that will take advantage of his deep receiving skills in a way Bill Musgrave‘s system never did.
So yeah, sure, why not bring back Jerome? It’s not like you’re paying him much and his teammates seem to enjoy him.
This argument hinges on the belief that Simpson, if he’s not a great receiver, is at least a good, solid, functional pass catcher who brings consistent value and can do more under Turner than he did under Musgrave.
Look at his numbers from 2013 and the argument seems to hold up. He caught 48 balls for 726 yards for a team that really didn’t pass the ball very effectively over the course of the season.
Only one touchdown, but still, good enough stats all things being equal.
Well that’s why advanced statistics exist. Sometimes the regular numbers don’t tell the full story. Sometimes you have to dig down that extra level or two and find out what’s really going on.
If you dig into Jerome Simpson’s 2013 numbers, you uncover a very unpleasant truth: he is not a solid receiver, he is not even an average receiver, he is just a flat out terrible NFL receiver.
The stats come to us via Pro Football Focus, who recently got out their adding machines and tried to answer a pretty interesting question: which receivers are really the best ball catchers, if you adjust their stats for offensive role and quality of quarterback?
Take away the inherent disadvantage that receivers have numbers-wise who run a lot of deep routes and who have below-average quarterbacks throwing them the ball, and what happens?
A lot happens, actually. Much of it very intriguing.
For instance, you find out that Jordan Cameron, Timothy Wright, Kenny Stills, Delanie Walker and Doug Baldwin were the five best pass catchers in the league last year. Those five players outperformed their expected catch rate by high margins (keep in mind that this analysis only deals with catch rates and does not speak to yards after the catch and other such factors).
Cameron especially benefited from the quarterback quality adjustment. By PFF’s reckoning, he lost 4 percentage points off his catch rate last year just because he had terrible QBs throwing to him.
Not only do you find out which receivers rose above disadvantages in terms of quarterback play and offensive role, you also discover which receivers were just flat out not very good regardless of those factors.
The bottom 20 receivers list includes some pretty terrible players, including Davone Bess – the flat out worst ball catcher in the league last year, by any measure you care to throw out there – Santonio Holmes, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Santana Moss. And, yes, Jerome Simpson.
The Vikings’ Mr. Good-Enough, according to this measure, was not good enough last year. He was 19th worst in the league in catch percentage adjusted for depth of target, and 16th worst in combined adjustment for depth of target and QB adjustment.
I love this stat analysis because it annihilates the two arguments that are most often rolled out in defense of Jerome Simpson: That he had bad quarterbacks throwing him the ball and he was being used in a system that didn’t play to his strengths.
Well guess what? Normalize the stats, eliminating the bad QB factor and the offensive role factor, and Simpson still ranks among the worst ball catchers in the league. Period.
It becomes very difficult, in light of these numbers, to prop up Jerome Simpson anymore. It’s not like he’s a young player who is still developing and improving. Simpson likely has maxed out, and he’s maxed out at awful.
The stats suggest that the Vikings would have done well to move on from Jerome Simpson and go free agent shopping. For just a little more money, they could’ve found a lot better player.
Oh, and don’t dismiss the idea of the Vikings taking a receiver fairly high in the draft. Who is the deep threat in Norv Turner’s vertical offense if you accept that Jerome Simpson is not the man to fill that role?
Cordarrelle Patterson might develop into a legit deep man, but he’s not one right now. Greg Jennings never really has been one. Jarius Wright is better as a deep receiver than his physical type suggests, but he’s a question mark too.
This receiver corps, when you really look at it, is not as complete as some people want to believe. There is a looming issue and you can believe Norv Turner is aware of it.
If Mike Evans happens to still be there at 8? Don’t be shocked if the Vikings pluck him.
Don’t be shocked if Jerome Simpson gets cut in camp, or even before. I just don’t think he’s the answer, and these stats back that up.