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Chiefs’ receiver tops list of NFL pass-catchers — and it’s definitely not who you think

It turns out that newly-acquired Kansas City wideout Richie James is pretty reliable receiver.

Los Angeles Chargers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

On Monday,’s Nick Snook published an article highlighting the Next Gen Stats CROE (Catch Rate Over Expectation) metric — which he explained like this:

[This statistic] measures the difficulty of completion using a number of factors, including separation from nearest defender, depth of target and speed. The players who qualify for this list and boast higher CROEs have consistently made difficult, unlikely catches more often than the rest. These are the ones who you can count on to make the tough grabs.

So for each individual target for every receiver, NGS calculates the probability a pass will be caught. The difference between that figure (which NGS calls xCatch) and the receiver's completion percentage is that player’s CROE. Expressed as a percentage, a positive number is good, while a negative number is bad.

Wide receivers who made Snook’s top-10 CROE list include familiar names like George Pickens of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Williams of the Los Angeles Chargers, Dallas Goedert of the Philadelphia Eagles and Cooper Kupp of the Los Angeles Rams.

But the player at the top is one you might not have heard until this offseason: Richie James of the Kansas City Chiefs.

1. Richie James · Kansas City Chiefs

Catch rate: 81.4%
xCatch: 70.4%
CROE: +11%

In a league filled with superstars at the receiver position, James is likely among the last players anyone would expect to land atop a receiving ranking. His placement here fits the narrative that the Giants built in 2022, when they exceeded expectations by a significant margin. James was among those who benefitted the most, setting career-high marks in receptions (57), receiving yards (569) and receiving touchdowns (four).

Last season was the first in which James reached any of the benchmarks needed to qualify for this list, and it was only the second campaign in which he saw more than 14 targets. [He had 67 in 2022].

So why does James land here? His catch rate over expected was better than that of any other receiver who met the aforementioned criteria. He helped quarterbacks targeting him post a 119.6 passer rating, the third-best mark of any pass catcher on this list. And of his 70 targets, only 13 resulted in incompletions. That’s a catch rate befitting a running back snagging swing passes, not a receiver running through a defense.


So how in the world could a player like James have a better CPOE than players like Pickett, Williams, Goedert and Kupp — not to mention Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins of the Cincinnati Bengals, DeVonta Smith of the Eagles and Stephon Diggs of the Buffalo Bills. All of them were also behind James in this stat. Other players like DK Metcalf, Noah Fant and Tyler Lockett of the Seattle Seahawks, Keenan Allen of the Chargers and Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings didn’t even make the CROE top 10.

The answer is that those players were all key players in their respective offenses — as Snook explained:

Many of the household names that missed this list are likely absent because they saw so many targets, we can assume they were almost guaranteed to see a greater number of easier catches than their peers, thus pulling down their overall CROE.

Putting it another way: James tended to be used in situations where catches were more difficult to make (according to PFF, he was aligned in the slot for 85% of his snaps and had a low average depth of target: 7.0 yards ). And in those situations, he made more plays than an average receiver would.

Does this mean that James will likely be in the running to become Kansas City’s No. 1 wide receiver? Probably not — although we have to admit that, given the wideouts the Chiefs have assembled so far, just about anything is possible.

But this metric does suggest why Kansas City was interested in James in the first place: not just as a punt returner, but as a reliable receiver who can do a lot of good in the short-to-intermediate areas of the field, where space is limited, and defenders are everywhere. (That’s just where JuJu Smith-Schuster made his bread-and-butter last season: he had an average depth of target of 7.1 yards — and quarterbacks posted a rating of 104.6 when targeting him).

One thing is for certain: just like a year ago, it’s going to be fascinating to watch how the Chiefs’ wide receivers develop in 2023.


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