Washington Football Team wide receiver Terry McLaurin is having a very good season, probably the best of his three-year career. Scary Terry is on pace to surpass his career-best marks in yards per game (78.6) and touchdowns (on pace for 9.7), and he’s doing all of this while having Taylor Heinicke throw him the football.
I know Heinicke is a feel-good story in the NFL. He was fun to watch against the Buccaneers in the playoffs last season, and he’s shown just enough talent to really inspire confidence in him from Washington fans. However, he’s not as good as those fans would like to believe. He often leaves balls short and fails to lead McLaurin to areas where only McLaurin can catch the ball. It has forced McLaurin to make several contested catches.
McLaurin has seen 33 contested targets in 2021, meaning nearly half of the passes thrown his way (69, nice) have forced him to make a catch with a defender in his face. Now you might be thinking, “That’s a lot, but I’m sure other receivers are facing similar issues.” But they’re not. McLaurin’s 33 contested targets is more than double the next closest receiver in the league — LAC’s Mike Williams (16).
His contested target percentage, 47.8 percent, is almost 20 percent greater than Williams’ 28.6 percent. Not only is McLaurin facing a lot of tight coverage, but he’s coming down with a lot of those catches. Other receivers dream of being able to Moss receivers the way Scary Terry does. He’s got more contested catches (18) than any other receiver has contested targets. McLaurin has managed a 66.7 percent catch rate on contested targets, the 17th-highest percentage in the NFL.
You might be thinking to yourself: “Hey now, contested targets are a slippery slope. Sure, the quarterback might be at fault for some of the throws, but if he’s forced to make those difficult catches so often, he must have some trouble creating separation.” And sure, that may be some of the problem. After all, McLaurin averages only 0.96 yards of separation per target, ranking 100th in the NFL. However, if you take a look at McLaurin’s contested catches, he very often has to make his way into a defender in order to have a chance. Whether the ball is underthrown, overthrown, thrown behind him, or thrown into double coverage, McLaurin is not the one to blame for his lack of separation.
This catch has zero yards of separation, was underthrown and could’ve been a bullet pass to the sideline as the corner was chasing McLaurin as he broke on the corner. Heinicke had several opportunities to make this catch easier for McLaurin, but instead of taking the huge chunk of yardage and getting out of bounds, Heinicke forced McLaurin into a space where the safety was barreling down on him and left the ball up in the air long enough for the safety to get over and have a chance at an interception. Yes, there is no separation on that play, but that is not McLaurin’s fault. In fact, McLaurin actually had about four yards of separation on his corner while the ball was in mid-air. A better throw makes for an easier catch, but a much worse highlight.
Just look at all of these catches from McLaurin’s fantastic performance in Week 7. Even on throws where nobody is near McLaurin, such as his second reception in the video above, Heinicke’s throws are less than optimal. On his touchdown reception, McLaurin has to come back to the ball straight into Eric Stokes to make the catch. Before having to slow down, McLaurin had about two yards of separation, which turned into zero yards as the ball was in the air. McLaurin’s sixth reception of this game was also a bad look from Heinicke as the slot corner, Chandon Sullivan, nearly came up with an interception if not for McLaurin’s ability to catch in traffic.
Yes, not every missed opportunity has been Heinicke’s fault. McLaurin has two drops on the season, and he could’ve made a few more 1-on-1 catches had he been able to create more space off the line of scrimmage. McLaurin’s ability to release isn’t the best, but it’s certainly not as low as his separation numbers would indicate.
McLaurin ranks 71st in catchable target rate (72.5 percent) and 51st in target quality rating (5.51). The only top-tier receivers with lower ratings than McLaurin in both categories are Cooper Kupp, DJ Moore, and Calvin Ridley.
Is Heinicke a bad quarterback? No. He’s fine, but he’s clearly not maximizing McLaurin’s potential. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t likely to maximize McLaurin’s output either when he returns healthy.
I just wanted to point out how good McLaurin could be if Washington ever finds its franchise quarterback.
McLaurin is so vastly underrated as a receiver, it’s almost... scary.