Let’s talk about Terry McLaurin.
That’s not said enough for a receiver who might be one of the league’s best in only his second season. McLaurin immediately made an impact in his first career start against the Philadelphia Eagles and has been among the league’s most productive receivers ever since.
Through Week 8, McLaurin ranked tied for seventh in targets (69), 13th in receptions, 12th in receiving yards, and 20th in Expected Points Added. That comes from a Washington passing offense that has been among the league’s worst overall, 29th in passing EPA per Sports Info Solutions. McLaurin has accounted for 173.6% of Washington’s receiving EPA in 2020. He’s been a star without much help.
What’s made McLaurin’s game stand out this season is how he’s been able to adapt to what was needed in the offense. At Ohio State, McLaurin was an underused receiver who often ran deep while the offense scheme and quarterback Dwayne Haskins favored short throws into space. In his senior season, McLaurin had just a 10.1% target share. Compare that to the 22.9% target share for Parris Campbell. But McLaurin’s targets averaged 5.9 more yards than when Ohio State threw the ball to anyone else, compared to 0.84 yards for Campbell’s.
That big play ability continued in his rookie season as a third-round pick. His 14.1-yard average depth of target was 16th-highest among receivers with at least 43 targets on the season, the qualifying cutoff for NFL Next Gen Stats. McLaurin had a number of long deep plays, but even with those deep shots, McLaurin had the ability to gain yards after the catch. Per Next Gen Stats, McLaurin created 1.3 yards after the catch above expectation, which ranked 28th among that same group of qualified receivers.
With some quarterback issues and the quarterback change in 2020, Washington has shifted McLaurin’s role and he’s now embraced the short area of the field. With that, he’s taken off as one of the league’s best yards after the catch receivers. His 7.1 yards after the catch per reception ranks third and 2.1 yards after the catch above expectation is now seventh among receivers in 2020, according to Next Gen Stats.
But even as McLaurin’s depth of target has increased, his air yard share in the offense has grown. Through Week 8, McLaurin had the highest share of his team’s intended air yards (how far the ball traveled in the air on each target) in the league.
Terry McLaurin, 2019-2020
|Year||aDOT||Intended Air Yard Share (Rk)||YAC/Rec (Rk)||YAC/R Above Expectation|
|2019||14.1||37.09% (9)||3.9 (90)||1.3 (28)|
|2020||10||45.48% (1)||7.1 (3)||2.1 (7)|
It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, to see how McLaurin’s targets have shifted. McLaurin has been significantly more involved in the short area of the field, where nearly half of his targets have come between 1 to 10 yards past the line of scrimmage.
Terry McLaurin Targets By Depth, 2019-2020
|2019||93||41 (44.1%)||25 (26.9%)||24 (25.8%)|
|2020||69||34 (49.3%)||16 (23.2%)||10 (14.5%)|
Part of the problem, and what McLaurin has needed to overcome, is the quarterback play between Haskins and Kyle Allen, hasn’t been great. Despite being one of the most targeted receivers in the league, McLaurin’s percentage of catchable passes is well below the league average. (McLaurin is the red dot.)
Much of that has popped up on deep passes and in the intermediate area (between 11-19 air yards), where McLaurin was incredibly productive in 2019.
Terry McLaurin Intermediate Targets, 2019-2020
Without that intermediate production, McLaurin has needed to create his own big plays, which is where the yards after the catch comes in. This season, McLaurin has been able to create more on short targets than any other receiver in the league. Among 23 players with at least 30 short targets this season, McLaurin has the highest percentage of receiving yards that have come after the catch, the only receiver over 60%.
Some of this has been from the scheme and getting McLaurin into space so he can run, like this third down Mesh play against the Cleveland Browns.
But also, McLaurin has been able to use his speed to create shallow separation and open up the field on his own, like he did on his 26-yard touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals.
At the start of the play, Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson lined up just under three yards away from McLaurin in the slot.
Off the line, McLaurin pressed the initial vertical stem of his route against Peterson’s outside leverage and closed the separation to just over 2.0 yards.
Within a few steps, McLaurin had created nearly a yard of separation and there were 2.78 yards between him and Peterson by the time he got the ball, just seven yards past the line of scrimmage.
The slant has been a big piece of McLaurin’s game this season. He is just three slant targets away from his 2019 total (15 to 12) and already has matched his nine receptions from last year. As was the case for everything else, McLaurin’s slants have been shorter in 2020 (5.6 air yards per reception) compared to 2019 (7.8).
Among NFL wide receivers, McLaurin ranks tied for fourth in slant targets, fifth in receptions, fourth in yards, third in yards after the catch, and third in EPA.
McLaurin’s ability to get deep and sell the vertical route has made those slants more effective and have opened up other routes (similar to how the Carolina Panthers have used Robby Anderson this season), such as this out against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 7 from the inside of a trips bunch that gained 13 yards on a third-and-11.
The receiver has done enough to make up for some other poor play around the offense and the only thing holding him back from even more dominant numbers has been the quarterback play. Earlier in that Dallas game, McLaurin turned a corner around multiple times on a deep cross from the slot, but Kyle Allen was late and high on the throw.
Chemistry between McLaurin and Allen will be something to watch for the remainder of Washington’s season. Even though they hit on a deep 53-yard touchdown in Week 7, McLaurin had better production with Haskins on the field in 2020, per Sports Info Solutions.
Terry McLaurin Quarterback Splits, 2020
It’s possible McLaurin and Allen can improve the connection throughout the second half of the season and the offensive staff in place has appeared creative enough to make that as easy as possible, but for now, McLaurin will continue to create his own production and make everyone around him better.