KC Joyner of ESPN.com, has put together a very interesting and well researched article ($) about the productivity of the NFLs TEs when they are flexed out wide rather than lining up along the line in the more traditional formation. To be included in his study, the TE needed to have had 48 pass attempts thrown his way. Also to be noted is the fact that Joyner includes:
"pass in the air" penalty attempts and yards (i.e., penalty yards from pass interference, defensive holding, illegal contact, etc., have been added to each player's receiving yardage stats).
Guess who led the pack in terms of yards per pass attempt when moved outside as a WR? That's right Heath Miller at 13.5 YPA. Let's be clear about what that means, even though it's of course obvious. Every time we threw the ball Heath's way when he was lined up out wide, we ate up nearl 1/7th of the football field - and that's factoring in attempts that weren't even completions! The next closest was Vernon Davis at 12.0 YPA, followed by Zach Miller at 10.3. Standout TEs Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Kellen Winslow and Jason Witten had averages of 8.2, 8.1, 8.7 and 8.1 YPA respectively.
Joyner then mentions that the top true WRs in the game usually finish the year with around a 10 YPA average. Joyner then adds that:
On an individual basis, Benjamin Watson and Heath Miller stand out because of their improvement in this category over their 2006 totals. Miller nearly doubled his 6.8 YPA and Watson added more than 2 yards to his 7.4 total.
Joyner then shows a table of the total % of passes thrown where the player was flexed out wide. Kellen Winslow had nearly 75% of his attempts come as a faux WR. Heath Miller, despite excelling in that role, is nowhere to be seen in the top 10 in terms of % of total balls thrown his way flexed out wide. Hmmm. Mr. Arians, you reading this?
Finally, Joyner includes the +/- ratio between yards per attempt as a WR and yards per attempt as a more traditional TE. Heath Miller had the second highest differential at 5.2. So, if Miller averaged 13.5 YPA slotted out wide, that means his YPA lined up on the line was only 8.3 YPA. Not a shabby number at all, but that's a substantial difference, no doubt.
I've said it over and over again: we need to get Heath Miller the ball more frequently. This guy is a special talent and we're drastically under-utilizing him. I was entrenched in my belief that we didn't throw him the ball enough in 2007, but now I am aware that when we did throw him the ball, we didn't even manage to do so in the formations/alignments/situations where he's most successful.