Friday, December 7, 2007

Ben Utecht

Tight end Ben Utecht hasn't been a favorite of Colts fans this season, myself included. After to Charlie Johnson and Aaron Moorehead I can't think of a player that has been criticized more by Colts fans, but has he gotten a fair assessment? I'll take a look.

The inspiration for the re-examination of Utecht came from one of by favorite sites and home of the best football analysis on the internet, Football Outsiders. A few days ago I stumbled onto this stat: Ben Utecht has caught 86% of the passes thrown to him. That's outstanding. That is the best % of any Tight End or Wide Receiver with more than 10 passes thrown to them (he has 28 targets). The great hands he has displayed this season has gone nearly unnoticed. That's good enough for the 6th best DVOA (value per-play) of all Tight Ends so far this year. It's not just short stuff either. He's averaging 11.2 yards per reception.
Is this a fluke? It's possible, but last season Utecht showed a similar tendency to catch the ball, bringing in 37 of the 53 (70%) passes thrown his way (stat from Pro Football Prospectus 2007). He's always been a good blocker and has kept Bryan Fletcher sitting on the bench nearly all year.
The knock on him this year has been fumbles. I was again shocked when I turned to the stats. He only fumbled twice. Two times, all season. That's not ideal, but far from the perception of him as simply unable to hold onto the ball. In his career he's fumbled 3 times, on 62 catches.

Ben Utecht, underrated, overcritized.


Jonathan said...

One quibble with your Utecht analysis - 86% caught is great, but let's look at the fumble %age. 28 targets * .86 is 24 possessions of the ball (I don't remember seeing Utecht ever take a hand-off, so I'm comfortable saying he's had the ball 24 times this season). 2 fumbles in 24 possessions is a mammoth 8% fumble percentage. I realize it's a small sample size, but if he was a running back he'd be on the street somewhere with an 8% fumble rate.

Shake'n'bake said...

Two fumbles is easily few enough for it to be a product of bad luck. I honestly thought it had been more than two fumbles. I wasn't expecting to have much of a counter to the fumbles. So much so that I tripled checked the fumbles stat. If he keeps fumbling at a 8% rate, that's awful and the coaches need to fix it or replace him, but I doubt he'll fumble often the rest of the season. He's already brought his fumble % down by half a percent (he caught two passes without fumbling) since I wrote the post. He's also now at 87% catch rate.

I'll be interested to see how the Colts deal with the TEs in the offseason. All three are free agents, Clark should be resigned and Utecht is a restricted free agent so I'd hope he at least gets a mid-level offer or a cheap new deal. He'd probably be back if they gave him an RFA offer, but if another team wants him the Colts would get a draft pick for him.