After a rookie season where he hauled in five touchdown passes, there was a lot of buzz about the Las Vegas Raiders' fourth-round pick, Foster Moreau, developing into a high-end second tight end. Unfortunately, a nasty knee injury at the end of that season served as a major speed bump in his progression.
While Moreau was active for every game in 2020, the Raiders brought in veteran Jason Witten during the offseason and it’s hard to imagine the former’s injury didn’t play a factor in that decision. Witten filled the team’s second spot on the depth chart, while Moreau took over 100 fewer snaps than the year before despite playing in three more games.
The 38-year-old wasn’t exactly lighting it up, which created some frustration within the fan base as to why the younger player with a brighter future wasn’t getting more reps.
The good news is, Raider Nation should be getting its wish as Witten retired and early training camp reports have indicated that Moreau will see more action this season. To measure the potential impact of the third-year pro seeing more playing time in two tight end sets, we’ll dive into some numbers from Sports Info Solutions.
Of course, who’s throwing the ball will be a big factor in Las Vegas’ offensive success, so we’ll start by comparing some of Derek Carr’s numbers from last season when passing with two or three tight ends on the field versus one. For those wondering why zero tight end sets aren’t included, Carr didn’t throw a single pass without at least one on the field last year.
About 25.1 percent of Carr’s 2020 passes came with two hybrids on the field, and he had significant decrease in production when compared to having just one out there. His on target percentage went from 77.7 percent with one to 65.4 percent with two, and his quarterback rating dropped from 111.5 to 84.1.
The same trend is seen when diving into some more advanced stats. The Raiders’ quarterback had 0.11 points earned per play and an EPA per attempt of -0.09 with 2 ‘Ys’, compared to 0.37 and 0.18 with only one. However, the reverse is true when three tight ends were on the field.
Despite 13 or 23 personnel only accounting for 8.9 percent of Carr’s attempts, 25.9 percent of his touchdowns - or seven out of 27 - came from those personnel groupings. Now, that’s not abnormal since teams bring in heavy packages near the goal line and use play action to create scoring opportunities. But the same figures used above also show more efficiency for Carr with three tight ends.
In 2020, 78.3 percent of his passes were on target with a 119.0 passer rating, 0.37 points earned per play and 0.18 EPA per attempt. Not only was every number higher with three tights versus one, but the two advanced metrics, points earned per play and EPA per attempt, doubled.
The difference between Carr’s numbers last year with two and three tight ends presents an interesting theory to discuss. Was Witten holding Las Vegas’ offense back and the fans’ gripe that Moreau should have been taking the old veteran’s snaps legitimate? The efficiency metrics say yes.
Moreau ran 33 routes last season with one other tight end on the field and recorded an EPA per target of 0.46. Witten, on the other hand, ran 73 routes with an -0.05 EPA per target. The gap between the two of them was even wider with three hybrids playing at once as the former had marks of 46 and 0.58, respectively, and 46 for -0.51 for the latter.
Looking at numbers from 2019 continues to support the theory that Witten held the offense back and Moreau was the more efficient player. With two tight ends, Carr accounted for 0.19 points earned per play and 0.14 EPA per attempt. For those keeping score, that’s nearly double the amount of points earned per play, and the difference between a negative and positive EPA per attempt for the signal caller.
Now, to properly give Moreau credit for being more efficient, we have to look at his 2019 numbers as well. His EPA per target was about the same as it was in 2020, 0.45, but he ran 66 routes instead of 33, so this gives more reason to believe that Moreau’s EPA with two tight ends will remain constant. That’s good news seeing as he’ll enter the 2021 campaign as the team’s No. 2 at the position, instead of being third on the depth chart like last year.
So, Las Vegas’ offense should see a nice boost with an expanded role for Moreau on two tight end sets. Look for this to also be a key part of how the team solves some of the red zone woes they had last season.