The Next Gen Stats team here at the NFL broke new ground this week in terms of distributing our unique data to the public with the release of a micro site where you, the people, can view the passing and route chart visualizations for FREE. You can filter by team and week of the season, or just search for individual players.
Next Gen Stats is still in its infancy, but this was a major release of content after a successful 2016 NFL season in furthering the growth of the series. To celebrate the release of the public charts page, let's look back and recap my Top-10 favorite route and passing charts of the year.
1) Julio Jones' route chart from the NFC Championship
What's fascinating about this chart is to see how much of the action flowed to the middle of the field for Jones and the Falcons, with only two of his catches coming on out-breaking routes. The chart illustrates what we so often hear about NFL coaches doing: identifying a weakness in the opposition and attacking it relentlessly. Kyle Shanahan clearly continued to hammer the Packers subpar cornerbacks with slant and post routes routinely. One of the emptiest criticisms we hear during draft season is that a prospect "doesn't run the full route tree." Certainly not every player coming from the college ranks is Julio Jones, but the Falcons have made a living hitting Jones over and over again on high-percentage routes. Other teams should attempt to do the same. In scouting, it's more important to note what a player can do, rather than what they can't do, when deciding if they can be an NFL asset.
2) Aaron Rodgers' passing chart from the divisional round
One of those passes was so remarkable that the Next Gen Stats team even gave it a special trail highlight. The green path was Rodgers' absolutely ridiculous 36-yard completion to Jared Cook that set up the game-winning field goal. The truly interesting note is the launch point of the pass, as Rodgers was way out of the pocket when he threw it, naturally, off his back foot with full power. He covered 31.97 yards while buying time for Cook on the 36-yard catch.
3) Amari Cooper's route chart from Week 8
One of the more practical uses of the Next Gen Stats charts is to assist us in more appropriately visualizing a player's usage and deployment. In this game, Cooper saw 10 of his 15 targets when lined up at left wide receiver. He racked up eight of his 12 catches and 71 percent of his yards from that position. The Bucs left corner Brent Grimes was surprisingly one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL this year, but rookie Vernon Hargreaves on the other side was a weak spot. The Next Gen Stats charts can help us identify those upcoming potential mismatches.
4) A.J. Green's route chart from Week 4
Green did it all in this game. He took short passes over the middle of the field for yards after the catch, won in the vertical game and on contested catches. This Week 4 game was one of the first moments of the season where we (or at least for me) started looking at the separation data for wide receivers. Green's performance against the Dolphins should serve as a reminder of why he is one of the best wideouts in the league.
5) Drew Brees passing chart from Week 15
Brees racked up 389 yards and threw four touchdowns, despite being away from the comforts of the Superdome. He mostly picked Arizona apart in the short to intermediate game, outside of his bomb of a touchdown to Brandin Cooks early in the game. The way he threatened the right and left boundaries while still dicing up the middle of the field was truly impressive. Brees provided plenty of great charts this season, but this performance was something to behold.
6) Dontari Poe's passing chart from Week 16
Sports are supposed to be fun, this is entertainment for us viewers. If you didn't have fun watching Poe line up behind center and toss that touchdown, I just don't understand. It also helped that this provided the perfect birthday present to gift to my friend Sully, who is a life-long Chiefs fan and Poe enthusiast. Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure the tweet with Poe's chart still has the most "likes" of any sent out from my account this year. It was truly a seminal moment of the 2016 NFL season.
7) Carson Wentz's passing chart from Weeks 3 and 8
Back when the NFL universe couldn't help but fall all over itself to make wild declarations about Carson Wentz's future projections in the first month of his rookie season, the Next Gen Stats were noticing something else. While Wentz was certainly hitting a few downfield passes under great protection in those first few games, he was mostly maintaining his completion percentage on conservative short-area throws underneath and behind the line of scrimmage. As the season wore on, that was a reality that became even more strikingly apparent.
By the time Week 8 rolled around, Lane Johnson was suspended along with the line play slipping as a whole, the young receivers had been exposed and Wentz's own individual mechanics started to completely erode. The Week 8 chart shows just how neutered the Eagles' passing game became as the season wore on, especially juxtaposed with the Week 3 example. The Next Gen Stats visualizations made it clear there was a change in Wentz's output, one that saw him finish 38th in air yards per completion among quarterbacks with 40 or more attempts.
8) John Brown's route chart from Week 3
It's fair to call this a little bit of a homer pick as a noted John Brown true believer, but this was one of my favorite charts of the season. Brown is too often pigeon-holed as a one-trick pony deep threat when, to me, he is one of the better route-runners in the league. His Week 3 chart helps demonstrate that, as we can see him running a mix of curls, outs and slants, among other patterns.
John Brown's Week 3 chart features some of the cleanest routes illustrated by the tracking data that were produced all season. From a practical stance, this impressive chart also marked Brown's re-ascension to relevance in the Cardinals offense after catching just two passes on limited snaps in Weeks 1 and 2 as he recouped lost time from a training camp concussion. The following week against the Rams, Brown went off for 10 catches and 144 yards, before suffering another health-related setback in Week 5. Let's hope we see more charts like this from Brown next year.
9) Derek Carr's passing chart from Week 14
The Next Gen Stats chart truly brings Carr and the passing offense's struggles that night into perspective. Just four of the quarterback's completions traveled further than five air yards. When viewed in conjunction with the Chiefspasser rating allowed grid, it becomes even more curious as to why Carr tried to exclusively pick on the defensive left side of the field when throwing deep.
10) Julian Edelman's route chart from Week 7
Sometimes a player's production can seem out of line with their reputation. Julian Edelman went through stretches this year where he wasn't putting up any big statistical games, as he averaged just 41.7 yards per game in Tom Brady's first three weeks back after starting the season on a four-game suspension. The Next Gen Stats charts for Edelman helped illuminate what was taking place on the field.
With Rob Gronkowski in place as the leading threat in the passing game and Chris Hogan playing the role of the vertical threat, Edelman's usage was limited to short routes. The chart illustrated just how confined the Patriots slot receiver's route portfolio was in those games. Edelman's 4.1 air yards per completion from Brady over those three weeks was the lowest among any team's top receiver in the first seven weeks of the season. Edelman took over the lead role once Gronkowski went down, but this chart was striking with mostly just the slant route being the focus.
There has been a wealth of unique, irreplaceable data coming from the Next Gen Stats tracking this year offering insight about the game of football. Yet, the most interesting piece was probably the Marqise Lee loopty-loop route.
It came on a play where Blake Bortles moved in the pocket to avoid pressure, but the visualization of the loop is simply something I haven't seen replicated on anyone else's route chart this year. Congratulations to Marqise Lee on not only a career-year in his third season, but also this groundbreaking play in the Next Gen Stats catalogue.
Think you can uncover a more peculiar visualization than the "Lee Loop" route? Take some time to dig into the free Next Gen Stats chart site and find one. If you do, please notify me immediately on social media.