New to Football IQ: Introducing Route Tracking

By Matt Edwards | October 17, 2022 | 3 minutes

New to Football IQ: Introducing Route Tracking

CJ Stroud is the overwhelming favorite to hear his name called for the Heisman trophy this December. His odds after last weekend's games range from -130 to -155 depending on the book. Through 6 games he has an unreal TD:INT ratio of 8 to 1, averages more than a first down for every throw (10.9 yards per attempt), and is currently tied with the NCAA record for passing efficiency at 207.6. We can talk about the faults of passing efficiency rating another time, but to be the best ever in any statistical category is something special. He has been on a tear. And this has all been without his preseason number 1 target: Jaxon Smith-Njigba!

Ohio State’s Wide Receiver depth has been well documented though, and they are not hurting for good options for Stroud to throw the ball too. 5-star recruits Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming, as well as 4-star recruit (and son of a Hall of Fame wideout that shares his name) Marvin Harrison Jr. To show how C.J Stroud and Ohio State utilize these weapons, I wanted to use a new tool we just added to Football IQ, we call it Route Tracking.

How our Route Tracking tool can help

Let’s start with some route diagrams for Marvin Harrison Jr. The four images below show all of the paths that Harrison has run so far in the 2022 season. Each image has slightly different coloring for the paths he took that add context to the information shown. These help us see run/pass splits by alignment, routes and targets, and overall play success.

As a receiver plays more plays, these start to resemble birds nests more and more. They can get a little busy and overwhelmed. But, football is a very contextual game, and contextual filters can be added to these to make them easier to read, and can help surface impactful trends.

3rd Downs

With the added context of using only 3rd down plays, these become much easier to read and give some important information about what is going on. First off, Egbuka has twice as many 3rd down targets as Harrison. His targets are also spread out by alignment. He has been targeted on both the left and right sides of the field, out wide, and in the slot. He is utilized all over the field. However, it looks like Harrison’s targets have predominantly come when he is lined up out wide. Another thing to note, the majority of his targets come on in-breaking routes.

Red Zone

Marvin Harrison is 6’4” and 205 pounds. He’s a matchup nightmare for opposing defenders, especially in the red zone. He leads the country in touchdown receptions with nine, five of which have come from targets in the red zone. Let’s use the route tracking tool to look at the red zone targets for Harrison and Egbuka.

As you might expect, Harrison runs (and is targeted) on a lot of fades when he lines up to the outside, and runs seams and posts when he is lined up in the slot. On the other hand, Egbuka has run more of the underneath routes (slants, outs) with some deeper concepts mixed in.

Pass Placement

One of my personal favorite tools we have at StatsBomb is our pass placement tool. We collect the x and y coordinates of where the ball is thrown in relation to the receiver. This tool can be used to assess quarterback accuracy, but can also be used to look at a receiver's catch radius.

Thinking back to Marvin Harrison Jr’s red zone route tracking, it is no surprise to see his ability to catch balls thrown above his head show up in the pass placement image. Some of those targets are almost out of our diagram. They are thrown so high, but he has the ability to go up high and “rebound” the football. A little surprising is his ability to also catch some lower balls. Usually, for taller wideouts, it’s tricky to go down and get the low passes that come his way.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba

As mentioned above, almost this whole season has been played without star wideout Jaxon Smith-Njigba. After his monster Rose Bowl game last season, expectations were sky-high for him in 2022.

15 catches
347 yards (Any bowl game record)
3 TD’s (Rose Bowl record)

Sadly, he got injured in week 1, but reports are he will be back for this week's game. I can’t wait to see how Ohio State implements his skills and abilities into the dynamic work done by Marvin Harrison Jr and Emeka Egbuka.

Matthew Edwards
Head of American Football Analysis

By Matt Edwards | October 17, 2022

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