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Alvin Kamara, Deebo Samuel, Chase Claypool headline top 10 YAC monsters

For the real playmakers in today's pass-happy NFL, catching the ball is just the beginning. Who are the most prolific players when it comes to yards after the catch? Below, Nick Shook uses Next Gen Stats to identify the top 10 YAC monsters in 2020.

NOTE: All stats and rankings are current heading into Week 8.

Alvin Kamara
New Orleans Saints · RB

Yards after catch (YAC): 448 in 6 games

Yards after catch over expectation (YACOE): +128

YACOE per reception: +2.8

Most running backs with any receiving yards of significance end up artificially high in YAC rankings because, well, most of their yards gained come with the full distance to the line to gain still in front of them. Swing passes, screens and the like traditionally dominate the route tree for pass-catching backs, though we've seen an increase in angle routes and similar modern paths in recent years.

Because of this, we'd typically overlook a decent amount of middle-of-the-pack running backs, but not Kamara. The explanation is simple: In the absence of Michael Thomas, and in Week 7, Emmanuel Sanders, Kamara has become a focal point of the Saints' passing game.

Kamara leads the entire NFL in target rate (minimum 70 routes run), being targeted on 35.6 percent of his 149 total routes run, regardless of position. A good chunk of those routes are screens, with Kamara running the route 43 times in 2020, more than twice as many as the next-closest player on the list, Cardinals receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Kamara has been targeted on 19 of those screens, catching 16 of them for 139 yards.

Kamara's 448 YAC is an example of the aforementioned inflation, but his value exceeds that impact. The Saints are in a world of trouble if they don't have the contributions of Kamara, who is still exceeding expectation by nearly 3 yards per catch. Positions be damned: Kamara is a baller.

Deebo Samuel
San Francisco 49ers · WR

Yards after catch (YAC): 215 in 4 games

Yards after catch over expectation (YACOE): +65

YACOE per reception: +4.1

Samuel is an interesting case, because his method of success isn't all that different than that of many running backs. Samuel is averaging just 2.3 air yards per target (AY/T) in 2020, an incredibly low mark for a receiver who ends up ripping off big gains. In search of context? We've got it for you: Niners tight end George Kittle is averaging over 6 AY/T, and rookie Brandon Aiyuk is serving as San Francisco's downfield choice, averaging over 11 AY/T this season.

Samuel, meanwhile, is making his money by catching short passes and getting busy. His average YAC over expectation (YACOE) is nearly a full yard greater than the next receiver on this list, Pittsburgh's Chase Claypool, and it's a product of the 49ers eschewing the home run in favor of a higher-percentage attempt in order to get the ball in Samuel's hands quickly.

Over the course of his first season and a half, Samuel has proven his coaching staff wise in taking this approach. Entering Week 7, Samuel averaged 9.1 YAC per reception in his career, No. 1 among WR since 2019, (min. 50 receptions). It has become the expectation, too, with Samuel ranking first in the entire NFL in Expected YAC per reception entering Week 7 with 7.6.

All of this information helps explain Samuel's 215 YAC, which is not a product of Samuel catching deep passes and racing downfield for additional yards, but hauling in the shorter completions in space and working his magic from there. When combined with the AY/T numbers listed above, San Francisco has quietly devised a well-balanced, multi-level attack through the air -- even if it seems a bit unorthodox.

Chase Claypool
Pittsburgh Steelers · WR

Yards after catch (YAC): 150 in 6 games

Yards after catch over expectation (YACOE): +62

YACOE per reception: +3.4

Claypool's method is the opposite of Samuel's, and the product of a recent revelation on the part of offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner.

While we're used to seeing Claypool catch passes in the short-to-intermediate range and then take off, or receive handoffs on end-arounds/jet sweeps, Pittsburgh has decided to turn to the traditional go route in the last few weeks. Entering Week 6, Claypool was targeted at the third-highest rate among WR on go routes: six receptions on 20 targets, or a 30 percent hit rate. That percentage has since dropped to 18.4 percent, due to an increase in go routes run (18 over last two weeks), meaning Pittsburgh has been sending Claypool deep a whole bunch. Even if they're not throwing to him, they're still taking the top off the defense.

The Steelers are typically finding success on passes of 10-plus air yards when aiming in Claypool's direction, explaining the shift in recent weeks. Ben Roethlisberger owns a completion percentage of 50 and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 3:0 when targeting Claypool on passes of 10-plus air yards, gaining 19.2 yards per attempt and posting a passer rating of 135.4. For comparison, those numbers drop off significantly -- 42.6 percent, 7.4 yards per attempt, 5:3 TD-to-INT and 77.3 passer rating -- when targeting anyone other than Claypool. It's clear who Pittsburgh's new deep threat is.

Justin Jefferson
Minnesota Vikings · WR

Yards after catch (YAC): 195 in 6 games

Yards after catch over expectation (YACOE): +77

YACOE per reception: +2.8

We're now in the middle of the pack, where yards after catch over expectation (YACOE) -- and the resulting average per reception -- help us figure out just how effective these receivers are in 2020. Jefferson is stellar in this department, making the most of his 28 receptions by extending positive plays with his feet. Jefferson owns the third-highest YACOE per reception among receivers (min. 10 receptions) at 2.8, and is one of only four receivers with a rate higher than 2.5. Of his 537 receiving yards racked up so far, 36.3 percent have been gained after the catch, making Jefferson a tough cover and a difficult tackle for opposing defenses.

Jefferson's contributions have helped the Vikings overcome the departure of Stefon Diggs and move forward into the new decade with a promising young replacement at the position. If he keeps up at this rate, he'll be well over 1,000 receiving yards, with nearly half coming with the ball already tucked away in his arm.

A.J. Brown
Tennessee Titans · WR

Yards after catch (YAC): 146 in 4 games

Yards after catch over expectation (YACOE): +63

YACOE per reception: +2.7

Brown made a name for himself as a rookie by proving he's elite when it comes to efficiency, posting a receiving yards per route run mark of 2.9, which at the time trailed only Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Michael Thomas and Antonio Brown in that category since the birth of Next Gen Stats in 2016.

Brown is making the most of his chances in his second season, landing in the middle of these rankings despite only accounting for 20.5 percent of the Titans' total receiving output in 2020 -- a rate lower than tight end Jonnu Smith. Brown has also capitalized on favorable situations, rocketing up this list on the back of a 96 YAC outing in Week 7's close loss to Pittsburgh. Math wizards at home will tell you this one game accounted for nearly two-thirds of Brown's YAC total for the season, an encouraging development for the Titans near the middle point of the 2020 campaign.

Terry McLaurin
Washington Football Team · WR

Yards after catch (YAC): 309 in 7 games

Yards after catch over expectation (YACOE): +96

YACOE per reception: +2.2

The under-center shuffling in Washington hasn't affected McLaurin, who is vying for the throne of YAC volume through seven weeks. Only Kamara has more YAC than McLaurin's 309, and the second-year wideout is doing so while averaging a full 10 air yards per target, meaning he's not just taking a short pass and running to rack up YAC.

McLaurin ranks sixth on this list because of his average YAC over expectation of +2.2, which means he's not exactly accomplishing Herculean tasks with the ball in his hands, but is doing what is expected of him based on what the defense is giving him. While Ron Rivera sorts out his quarterback situation, he can rest easy knowing he has at least one receiver who can be counted on to gain extra yards with the ball in his hands.

Jamison Crowder
New York Jets · WR

Yards after catch (YAC): 194 in 4 games

Yards after catch over expectation (YACOE): +63

YACOE per reception: +2.2

Crowder deserves some type of award for landing on this list despite playing in only four games as part of a Jets offense that has been downright putrid at times. Crowder has done so by -- you guessed it -- making plays with the ball in his hands, gaining more than half of his total receiving yards after the catch. His average YAC over expectation of +2.2 again paints a picture of a receiver taking what the defense gives him and getting his offense an extra 2 yards or so per reception -- again, quite a feat when considering Crowder's struggles with availability and the offense in which he operates, which is dead last in the NFL in yards per game and passing yards per game. The Jets might be bad, but Crowder is not.

Julio Jones
Atlanta Falcons · WR

Yards after catch (YAC): 162 in 5 games

Yards after catch over expectation (YACOE): +58

YACOE per reception: +1.9

Jones is another example of a receiver overachieving by landing in these rankings despite not playing in all of his team's games. Jones has appeared in five contests in 2020 and has really only made a significant impact on three of them, but he's been legitimately crucial in those contests. He's doing so in typical fashion, averaging 11.2 air yards per target while also facing press coverage on nearly one-third of his 31 receptions. Going to Jones is again proving to be a smart move for Matt Ryan, who owns a passer rating of 131.5 when targeting No. 11. The 31-year-old receiver's average YAC over expectation of nearly 2 yards per reception reiterates the obvious strategy when it comes to Quintorris Lopez Jones: Just get him the ball and let him work.

Tee Higgins
Cincinnati Bengals · WR

Yards after catch (YAC): 145 in 7 games

Yards after catch over expectation (YACOE): +51

YACOE per reception: +1.9

Higgins' play has been an exciting development for the scrappy Bengals, who have seen fellow rookie Joe Burrow turn the Clemson product's way more often as the season has progressed, and they're reaping the benefits. Higgins' touchdown in Week 7 exemplified his potential in this league, as the receiver ran an in route, caught the ball at the 11, split two Browns defenders and spun off a third before trotting across the goal line for 11 yards gained after the catch -- half of his 22 total YAC on Sunday -- and a score. Burrow has found success by getting the ball to Higgins in space over the middle and letting him do the rest, and if the two keep this up, we can expect Higgins to remain in this group for some time.

George Kittle
San Francisco 49ers · TE

Yards after catch (YAC): 215 in 5 games

Yards after catch over expectation (YACOE): +59

YACOE per reception: +1.7

We mentioned Kittle way up at No. 2 when covering Samuel's contributions, and while his YAC total doesn't match fellow tight end Travis Kelce's 260, he's done more with less in 2020. Nearly half of Kittle's 435 receiving yards have come on gains made after the catch, and 59 of that YAC total came via Kittle exceeding expectation. Passes intended for Kittle have proven to be smart decisions, with Kittle registering YAC success on 68.8 percent of receptions, which puts him in the top 15 of that category across the league.

We know what Kittle brings to the table -- sure hands, excellent athleticism and crushing run blocking -- but defenses are still struggling to stop him once he has the ball in his possession. It's part of a trend that dates back to 2018, a span in which Kittle has gained +602 yards after catch over expectation, the best in the NFL among tight ends by over 150 YAC over expectation. He's done so by owning the middle of the field, gaining more YAC on crossing routes (473) than any other player since 2018, and leading the NFL in YAC above expectation (+113) on such routes. We shouldn't expect anything else but more of the same going forward.

Follow Nick Shook on Twitter @TheNickShook.

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