Monday, March 3, 2008

Does Bernard Berrian have "hands of Williamson"?

To look at the comments regarding the Bernard Berrian signing, they seem to exhibit one of two opinions:

a) This is a great move for the Vikings that will vitalize a moribund passing game; or
b) Bernard Berrian couldn't catch a cold in International Falls in January.

And, somewhat predictably, most of the "a" responses seem to come from Vikings fans while most of the "b" responses come from Bears fans. The comments on's story about the signing fall pretty handily along these lines. Having not watched a tremendous amount of Berrian's play, it seems that a lot of Bears' fans' rancor comes from Berrian dropping a few crucial balls, with the most damning testimony saying that he's no step up from stonehands Troy Williamson, in terms of the ability to catch the ball. The only good thing most people can agree on is that Berrian is an upgrade over the receivers the Vikings currently have, which is faint praise indeed.

Of course, fans always remember anecdotal evidence more than they do overall performance -- catch 10 passes in a game, great, but drop that go-ahead TD in the fourth quarter and you're a bum. It could be that Berrian's had a game or two like that, souring many Bears fans on him and, despite their lack of depth at the position (Devin Hester and...uh...), not raising too many concerns about the signing.

It's tough to use anything but anecdotal evidence to rate a player's "hands"; the closest we can get is probably target stats, an imprecise measurement that simply divides the number of catches made by a receiver by the number of times a pass was thrown to him. Sounds good, until you look at some of the flaws.

Notably, deep threats are likely to have a worse target percentage than short receivers. It's harder to reel in a 50-yard bomb than it is to catch a 5-yard out. A top-of-the-line receiver might also get doubled more if he doesn't have a good complementary receiver to take some of the pressure off.

There are other issues, too. Say Receiver A has 60 catches on 120 targets (50%) and Receiver B has 60 on 100 (60%). This doesn't automatically mean that B is better than A. Receiver A might also have gotten open more often, making him a more frequent target of his quarterback. Receiver B's quarterback might also have been better than A's, aiming more accurate passes his way. Finally, target stats are also completely unofficial, and compilation numbers can vary depending on the source.

Some of these concerns can be reduced a bit, at least in terms of comparing Williamson to Berrian. Both are fast receivers and are considered "deep threats" and neither had particularly good quarterbacking. Also, neither man was his team's primary receiver so they probably weren't doubled a tremendous amount of the time.

With all that in mind, and with all the dubiousness of targetting stats laid before us, take a look at this page. You'll have to select "Week: YTD" and "Year: 2007" to see the target stats for 2007. Once you've done that, you can do a basic comparison of Berrian and Williamson (or any other receiver). Here are the numbers:

Bernard Berrian
Targets: 112
Receptions: 69
Percentage: 62%

Troy Williamson
Targets: 40
Receptions: 19
Percentage: 47%

As mentioned above, compilation of target stats is iffy, which is clear to see here -- Berrian had 71 receptions in 2007, while Williamson had 18. Even taking that inaccuracy into account, and assuming that the target numbers are off a little, it's clear that Berrian caught a significantly higher percentage of passes that were sent his way in 2007.

As for the other Viking receivers, Bobby Wade managed a 69% conversion rate in 2007, Sidney Rice 63%, and Robert Ferguson 54%. Berrian's Bears teammate, Muhsin Muhammed, managed only a 53% conversion rate. Other notable receivers who had a target percentage equal to or worse than Berrian in 2007 include Randy Moss, Chad Johnson, Steve Smith, Terrell Owens, Braylon Edwards, and Plaxico Burress. Several of those men suffer from the "no real #2" issue mentioned above, and all were at least their teams' primary deep threat, but was it really that different for Berrian?

I've also managed to find some 2006 target numbers that paint Berrian in a less positive light, with only a 50.5% conversion rate (compared to Williamson's 48.7%), and if you select "2005" on the FootballDiehards page, you'll see Berrian with a 52% rate (on only 13 catches) and Williamson at 46% (on 24 catches). Adding it all up gives you a 55.9% (133-238) for Berrian and 47.7% (80-168) for Williamson. On the bright side, Berrian showed improvement in 2007, while Williamson never showed even a remote uptick in percentage over his three years with the Vikings, and Berrian posted higher percentages than Williamson every year. In short, I don't think that Bernard Berrian will make anyone forget Cris Carter's amazing, highlight-reel catches, but he won't be as bad as Williamson, either.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that we ended up looking at slightly different stats, but the conclusion was roughly the same. As I posted over at SN:

TW vs BB in the Drop Department
I just buzzed over to Stats Inc to look for myself. Here is what I found:

Troy Williamson 2007
Target 76, Dropped 11, Percentage caught 48.7

Bernard Berrian 2007
Target 102, Dropped 3, Percentage caught 50.0

Stas Inc defines a Dropped Pass as:

Any incomplete pass which was catchable with normal effort. STATS compares and reviews the judgement of multiple reporters to determine if a pass was dropped.

The low percentage caught points to the quarterbacks inability to put the ball on target, but when you figure out of the ones that are catchable the drop percentage of Troy's is glaring compared to that of Bernard's.

Randy Moss 97/8/43.3
Terrell Owens 152/14/55.9
Marvin Harrison 148/6/64.2

Berrian is an improvement, but you are right about not likely to be able to erase Cris Carter's highlight reel catches from our minds. Vikings fans have been bless by two of the greatest receivers that have ever played the game, Cris Carter and Randy Moss.