Cumberland, the 2nd Best Catching Tight End in the League?

This is why you look at stats. I was a pretty big Cumberland fan. It started I think in 2012, but it was Crackback who drew my attention to him; you saw flashes of rare physical combinations. And this year was to be his breakout year. He had it set up. The offense was starved for ball control passing options, the QB was struggling under pressure, but it just didn't happen. Last year was a severe disappointment for me, and I really soured on him as a player. Can't block, we know that, but he basically just seemed capable of some sort of deep seam route, and not even very capable as that. He had speed, he had hands, but the two didn't work together at the same time on enough plays to make it dynamic. Maybe he was working through an injury that limited him, but Cumberland was part of the problem with the offense, not part of the solution.

So in looking through the "just signed Cumberland GGN" thread I thought I'd look him up on Football Outsiders's DVOA for Tight Ends. For me DVOA doesn't lie. It sometimes might exaggerate (bring certain features forward), but it generally is one of the best advanced statistical measures out there. It takes in opponent and game situation on a per play basis. And this is a case that maybe explains why you need to look at statistics. Statistics can correct for emotional components that color your "impression" of a player. I fully went to Football Outsiders ready to arm myself with the stat that Cumberland was one of the most mediocre Tight Ends in the league. Instead I found he was, per play, one of the best. 2nd best DVOA Tight End, 9th best DYAR Tight End.


I can also say, this is why you watch games, and you don't just look at stats. It is frankly shocking that per play, in game situation, Cumberland was this effective...but he was. But we also just watched him disappear in the season, in games. He has good hands, but frankly he just wouldn't go up and get the ball at times. He seemed disappointingly limited.

Also of note, statistically. He had 3 drops out of 29 catchable balls, one of the worst drop rates in the league (34th out of 41). He was the worst pass blocking TE in the league with a PRP of 88.7, giving up 11 pressures in 73 blocking plays. But had one of the best yards per target in the league (PFF25, 3rd out of 41 TEs). 10.21 yards per target, and the 5th best deep pass catch rate (55.6%).


The early responses to this post got me thinking about Cumberland's year. I wanted to see where his good games were, if they were targeting and how frequently, and also if his concussion in the Cincinnati game may have had a lasting impact. So I grafted out the year showing the number of targets for each game, and then yards per target (instead of yards per catch).


A few things stand out. First of all there were 3 or 4 games that he simply wasn't a factor in for reasons probably beyond his control. He missed the New Orleans game due to the concussion, and he wasn't targeted in games 1 and 2. His counterpart Winslow was on the other hand heavily targeted. 8 targets against TB, 6 against NE. It looks like with a rookie QB they decided to feed the ball to the vet.

The other thing that stands out is that the weakest portion of the year occurred during Geno's historic 3 game meltdown, during which protection also melted down. Perhaps one would say that a TE should be the release valve for a struggling QB, but those routes really aren't what Cumberland is given usually. He's a deep route runner, and in that 3 game stretch Geno was basically running for his life.

It looks like starting with the Atlanta game they started featuring him in the offense more, but then he left the Cincinnati game with a concussion and didn't get back on track until the Carolina game. Is it unfair to see the concussion and Geno's struggles as a primary factor in his loss of effectiveness? He wasn't even targeted once in the Oakland game, while Winslow was targeted 6 times. They were looking to stablize the offense. It looked like there was only 7 of the 16 games (less than half) where Cumberland was a part of a functioning offense. For those that make qualifications for Geno Smith, the same sort of wait-and-see may apply to Cumberland.

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