Hokepoints: Big Ten Receivers Suck

Submitted by Seth on September 5th, 2012 at 10:52 AM

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Site notice: "Museday" (at times also known as "Musenesday" and other things), is now and hereafter "Hokepoints." Because football is about having more points. Get it?

So we noticed something when doing that pre-season draft-o-snark thing: The receivers in our conference kind of suck. More accurately I should say that there are precious few proven wideouts coming back this year. Here's what the receiver draft board looked like, not counting RBs, TEs, or moonlighting defensive backs and whatnot:

Player School Ht Wt Yr YPG YPC TDs Drafted
Jared Abbrederis WIS 6'2 188 JR* 66.6 17.0 8 20 (Brian)
Keenan Davis IOWA 6'3 215 SR 59.4 14.3 4 26 (Ace)
Antavian Edison PUR 5'11 175 SR 44.9 13.3 3 n/a
Kofi Hughes IND 6'2 210 JR 44.7 15.3 3 41 (Seth)
Kenny Bell NEB 6'1 185 SO 35.5 14.4 3 57 (Seth)
Kain Colter NW 6'0 190 JR 35.2 10.7 3 74 (Ace)
Jeremy Gallon MICH 5'8 187 JR* 34.9 14.6 3 65 (Seth)
O.J. Ross PUR 5'10 188 JR 29.7 10.8 3 n/a
Demetrius Fields NW 6'0 210 SR 29.4 11.9 3 n/a
Roy Roundtree MICH 6'0 180 SR* 27.3 18.7 2 97 (Seth)
Kevonte Martin-Manley IOWA 6'0 205 SO 24.9 10.8 3 84 (Brian)
Devin Smith OSU 6'1 196 SO 22.6 21.0 4 103 (Ace)
DeAnthony Arnett MSU 5'11 170 SO 20.2 10.1 2 22 (Heiko)
Kyle Prater NW 6'5 215 SO 0.6 6.0 0 11 (Heiko)
Devin Gardner MICH 6'4 203 JR - - - 19 (Heiko)
MarQueis Gray MIN 6'4 250 SR - - - 60 (Brian)
Michael Thomas OSU 6'2 193 FR - - - n/a
Bennie Fowler MSU 6'1 218 JR - - - n/a

They're listed here by yards per game, which Mathlete says is a better gauge for receivers than hype. But however you rank them, we took many transfers and QBs before even considering the myriad Keenan Davisii who played Avant to the Braylons of departed McNutts. And by the end of the draft most of the available options were assorted Boilermakers dudes with about 30 ypg.

Whence all the receivers in our once receiver-rich league? A few theories to test:

  • Higher than normal attrition: Graduations being a relative constant, were there more juniors departing of the NFL, transfers, etc. than usual?
  • Comedown from riches of 2011: Maybe the best receivers last year were inordinately productive, leaving little opportunity for the rest. Test by % of production not returning vs. previous years.
  • Cascade effect from recruiting shortfalls: Perhaps there was a league-wide lull in receiver recruiting in '09-'10 that we're not feeling the effects from.
  • Quarterbacks: the more they run the less they pass: This one's obvious but the conference has gone more spread-to-run, even at the top programs, meaning there's a lot fewer opportunities for WRs to show what they've got.

We dig in after THE JUMP.

Theory the First: '11 to '12 Attrition Was Above Normal

StonumGlasses

The sum of all fears

This is something you'll hear coming from Happy State College Valley these days. The Lions lost two seniors: Justin Brown to Oklahoma, and Devon Smith, already out the door one way or another before the thing, landed at Marshall. Their combined 2011 production was 60 catches, 900 yards and 4 TDs. That was it, really. None of the early entry receivers in the 2012 draft came from the Big Ten, and the only (other) dismissals were Indiana's Jay McCants and (sigh) Darryl Stonum. McCants shouldn't register.

Evidence for a conference-wide epidemic goes back further, and speaks to the high rate of attrition for blue chips who might have been eligible to contribute in 2012. They are:

Name Stars RR Rk School Class Where are they now?
DeVier Posey 5 6.1 3 OSU 2008 NFL (graduated)
Terry Hawthorne 4 6.0 6 ILL 2009 Moved to defense
Darryl Stonum 4 6.0 7 MICH 2008 Dismissed from team
Duron Carter 4 5.9 11 OSU 2009 Transferred
Je'Ron Stokes 4 5.9 14 MICH 2009 Transferred
Chris Fields 4 5.9 19 OSU 2009 On team (but kinda busty)
Keenan Davis 4 5.9 21 IOWA 2009 On team
Fred Smith 4 5.9 24 MSU 2008 Transferred
Kraig Appleton 4 5.9 25 WIS 2009 Transferred
Hayo Carpenter 4 5.9 n/a MINN 2009 Graduated (was JC transfer)
Justin Brown 4 5.8 30 PSU 2009 Transferred
Cordale Scott 4 5.8 31 ILL 2008 Transferred
James Jackson 4 5.8 32 OSU 2009 Transferred
James Louis 4 5.8 33 OSU 2010 Transferred
Cameron Gordon 4 5.8 36 MICH 2009 Moved to defense
Donald Spencer 4 5.8 37 MSU 2009 Transferred
Brandon Green 4 5.8 39 MINN 2008 Graduated
O.J. Ross 4 5.8 40 PUR 2010 On team
Roy Roundtree 4 5.8 44 MICH 2008 On team
Vincent Hill 4 5.8 45 MINN 2008 Transferred

Attrition is part of the story at Penn State and Michigan, and it's a good response when a Buckeye tries to tell you their receivers just looked bad because Bauserman and Miller discovered Tacopants last year. As a league-wide epidemic though, I don't see it.

Theory the Second: Comedown from riches of 2011

bj-cunningham-big-ten-title-gamejpg-e52fc70393cdaae01276-650-366

ALDu4Yjenkins

The best receivers last year were quite productive. The question is whether they were so much so that they left little opportunity for the rest. We test first by showing how much production from 2011 isn't coming back (again, TEs and other non-WRs removed).

devier-posey

School Yds Ret Ret% 2010 2009
Illinois 1,610 334 20.7% 69.7% 19.53%
Indiana 1,482 1,190 80.3% 19.3% 83.33%
Iowa 2,396 1,081 45.1% 50.5% 79.60%
Michigan 1,834 929 50.7% 73.3% 71.43%
Michigan St. 2,518 39 1.5% 64.7% 60.26%
Minnesota 2,760 281 10.2% 48.7% 100.00%
Nebraska 1,367 1,110 81.2% 48.9% 60.79%
Northwestern 2,445 1,284 52.5% 78.1% 35.61%
Ohio St. 853 691 81.0% 50.1% 79.93%
Penn St. 1,681 108 6.4% 89.8% 75.92%
Purdue 1,901 1,250 65.8% 48.6% 8.27%
Wisconsin 2,089 1,163 55.7% 32.4% 36.14%
TOTAL 21,542 9,595 44.5% 57.0% 57.73%

J'accuse! There's always turnover but for whatever reason the conference lost far more of its best receivers than in recent years. You know Michigan's situation at receiver, but with regard to how much the rest of the league lost, losing only half of the 2011 total in Hemingway, Odoms, and Grady19 isn't bad. In fact it's not even below-average.

Going back further may reveal that 2009 and 2010 were high, meaning lots of underclassmen were sticking until finally running out of eligibility in 2011. There's some evidence for this. In 2009 nobody in the conference averaged over 100 ypg, and key losses were Keith Smith (MSU), Blair White (MSU), Arrelious Benn (ILL), and a couple of forgettable Wildcats. After 2010 the conference had only to suck up the losses of Dane Sanzenbacher (OSU), Damarlo Belcher (Ind), Mark Dell (MSU), Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (Iowa) and Tandon kdDoss (Indiana), and again there wasn't a single player who averaged even 80 ypg.

And this year? Hoo boy. Iowa lost Marvin McNutt's 101 ypg; Illinois lost A.J. Jenkins' 98 ypg, Northwestern lost Jeremy Ebert, Wisconsin lost Nick Toon, Michigan State and Penn State were cleaned out.

All told, two dudes (Abbrederis and Davis) returned among the conference's 2011 Top 10, and just six guys (the other four being Edison, Hughes, Bell and Gallon) return from the Top 20. Nobody else among the living cracked 400 yards. That's not to say there's nothing left. Keenan Davis (right) ought to have a year like Avant's 2005. Some of the other backups in passing-oriented offenses like Northwestern's Demetrius Fields, Martin-Manley, and a Spartan or two (probably Bennie Fowler from their practice reports) ought to get a lot of targets they didn't' get before.

I think in 2009 and 2010 the conference was just young at the position; I think it wasn't just a come-down as much a generation finally coming of age; I think we had it coming. But that doesn't explain how the conference got so top-heavy in the first place. For that let's look at…

Theory the Third: A Recent Dip in Recruiting

Here's Big Ten (plus Nebraska) receiver recruiting from the Rivals database. The score is determined with the Ace system (5 points for each 5-star, etc. Everything under 3 is counted a 2-star)

Year 5 stars 4 stars 3 stars 2 stars 1 or NR Total Score
2002   8 11 16   35 97
2003   3 15 14 1 33 87
2004   6 17 9 2 34 97
2005   7 14 14   35 98
2006   8 9 9   26 77
2007 1 7 13 8 1 30 90
2008 1 6 10 14 1 32 89
2009   11 13 4   28 91
2010   2 17 5 1 25 71
2011     25 4   29 83
Total or Avg. 2 58 144 97 1 307 88

There's an appreciable difference between the early aughts and after when the balance shifted toward the SEC. But what we're really talking about is an abrupt, two-year drought of blue chip receivers across the whole conference in 2010 and '11. (The two 4-stars are Purdue's O.J. Ross and Ohio State's James Louis, both under 6-feet and both ranked near the 3-star edge). What happened?

whathappened

Did our balls drop off or something?

There isn't a way to test this without going over lots of recruiting history but I would bet this has something to do with the receiver market being more reactive than positions where fewer guys get playing time to coaching volatility, of which there was suddenly a high amount at that time. Receiver, more so than some other positions at least, is kind of easy to scout, and that goes both ways: the players with NFL bodies know they have NFL bodies and choose schools that will get those bodies noticed. And as it so happens, there's plenty of room each year for an NFL body at receiver at whichever school.

Let's see if this can get predictive. What I've done is try to show the predictive value of the receiving talent on any given team any given year, each class valued as such: 5th Yr Seniors: 1/2; Seniors-Sophomores=1; Freshmen=1/2, and divide everything by 10. What you should get is the expected number of serviceable (3.5 stars or above) receivers on that team, simply from recruiting. IMG_6155Here comes a box of numbers that mean very, very little:

School 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
Illinois 3.2 3.4 3.4 3.5 3.4 3.5 3.0
Indiana 3.1 2.8 2.7 2.4 2.3 2.8 2.6
Ohio State 2.5 2.5 2.8 2.8 3.1 3.4 3.1
Penn State 2.3 2.4 2.4 2.6 2.6 2.1 1.8
Purdue 5.1 3.9 3.0 2.4 3.0 3.4 3.1
Wisconsin 2.6 3.0 3.1 3.1 2.8 2.2 1.9
Iowa 2.5 2.1 1.9 2.0 1.8 1.8 1.9
Michigan 2.8 3.3 3.8 3.7 4.1 3.8 2.9
Michigan St 4.8 4.6 4.2 3.7 3.1 2.7 2.8
Minnesota 2.5 2.3 2.7 3.4 3.5 3.5 3.3
Nebraska 3.6 4.1 4.4 3.8 3.0 2.5 2.2
Northwestern 2.2 2.0 1.8 1.9 1.9 2.3 2.6
B1G Avg 3.1 3.0 3.0 2.9 2.9 2.8 2.6

By this measure last year's receiver squads should have been ranked 1. Michigan; 2. Minnesota; 3. Illinois; 4. Purdue; and 5. Ohio State. Iowa should have been last. Iowa which had Marvin McNutt wracking up 1,300 yards and 12 TDs, and which still returns the 3rd most receiving yards in the conference.

Of course the quarterback and system have a lot more to do with pure yards. If you compare each team's yards per catch and (thank you again Bill C. of Football Study Hall)yards per target. Again, no tight ends and whatnot—just pure receivers here.

School Yds by WRs Catches YPC (Rk) Targets YPT YPT Rk Recr Rk
Wisconsin 2,089 134 15.6 (4th) 187 11.17 1st 10th
Michigan 1,834 105 17.5 (1st) 192 9.55 2nd 1st
Northwestern 1,957 150 13.1 (9th) 215 9.10 3rd 9th
Michigan St. 2,435 171 14.2 (7th) 269 9.05 4th 7th
Iowa 2,351 162 14.5 (6th) 274 8.58 5th 12th
Ohio State 702 43 16.3 (2nd) 88 7.98 6th 5th
Minnesota 1,420 97 14.6 (5th) 181 7.85 7th 2nd
Illinois 1,826 147 12.4 (10th) 238 7.67 8th 3rd
Penn State 1,734 109 15.9 (3rd) 231 7.51 9th 11th
Nebraska 1,367 102 13.40 (8th) 183 7.47 10th 8th
Purdue 1,912 174 11.0 (12th) 266 7.19 11th 4th
Indiana 1,984 168 11.8 (11th) 287 6.91 12th 6th

You're looking at the last two columns to see if our recruiting scoring system is wrong. Interestingly the yards per catch lines up with recruiting better than the yards per target, which is a great metric but not a perfect one since you can't separate what the receiver did from the accuracy of the pass, which is on the quarterback, and how much it was contested, a measure of the system's efficacy.

So maybe that's where we ought to be looking…

Theory the Fourth: More Yards with Legs Means Less with the Arms

DenardElectricSlide-Heiko

Heiko

Michigan is transitioning back from the spread 'n shred, but for now fusion cuisine reigns supreme, and the main ingredients are Denard, shotgun, and slotbacks. We're not the only ones. Any number of talented Buckeye wideouts could be hiding out in the meager stats left over from inserting a (-nother) over-throwing gazelle at QB and calling passes as many times as the ghost of Woody Hayes allows, which is maybe twice a game. Northwestern, that bastion of spread-to-pass offense spanning two coaching generations, turned to leggy athlete-type Kain Colter when Persa, another hybrid quarterback was hurt. The other passing spread team, Purdue, was behind Caleb Terbush, who passed plenty but fit the born-to-run mold. Indiana, not so long ago a Pistol offense with such towers as Damarlo Belcher and Tandon Doss, turned to freshman Tre Roberson mid-way through the season, after which he ran the ball as often as he threw it. Minnesota, Nebraska, Illinois, and even Wisconsin to a lesser degree trotted out quarterbacks known for getting yards with their legs in offenses designed to let them do that.

You can kick the Rodriguez out of the Midwest, but you can't take the Rodriguez out of the Midwest, ya ken? Only Penn State, Michigan State, and Iowa were left among the once pass-happy conference. In some ways this is going back to the conference's roots So what did that do to receivers? Well they got less. Here's how often they run these days (unfortunately sacks not removed—too hard):

School QB(s) Carries Rush Yds P-Att Run/Pass Ratio
Minnesota Marqueis Gray 199 966 213 1/1
Ohio State Braxton Miller 159 715 157 1/1
Michigan Denard Robinson 221 1176 258 6/7
Illinois Nate Scheelaase 191 624 277 2/3
Nebraska Taylor Martinez 188 874 288 2/3
Northwestern Kain Colter/Dan Persa 238 1430 379 5/8
Indiana Tre Roberson 109 426 277 2/5
Purdue Caleb Terbush 83 219 277 2/7
Wisconsin Russell Wilson 79 338 309 1/4
Iowa James Vandenberg 78 61 404 1/5
Penn State Matt McGloin 24 -12 231 1/9
Michigan State Kirk Cousins 37 -39 419 1/10

So Denard will run the ball six times for every seven passes he throws, etc. Conference-wide, last year Big Ten quarterbacks ran the ball once for every two passes attempted. The ratios will change this year with maturing or replacement quarterbacks. You need look back no further than 2007 to see how radically this has changed:

School Player Carries Rush Yds P-Att Run/Pass Ratio
Illinois Juice Williams 165 755 267 5/8
Wisconsin Tyler Donovan 112 277 333 1/3
Indiana Kellen Lewis 147 736 442 1/3
Minnesota Adam Weber 146 617 449 1/3
Iowa Jake Christensen 99 0 370 1/4
Ohio St. Todd Boeckman 56 63 298 1/5
Northwestern C.J. Bacher 86 31 521 1/6
Michigan Chad Henne/Ryan Mallett 57 -158 419 1/7
Michigan St. Brian Hoyer 47 -105 376 1/8
Penn St. Anthony Morelli 48 -13 402 1/8
Purdue Curtis Painter 53 -20 569 1/10

The most QB-rushing-based team just half a decade ago (Illinois) was what Northwestern was last year (except way fewer plays). The passes aren't getting to the receivers because they're not being thrown; meanwhile the last of the wave who arrived thinking Tyler Donovan is the 2nd most likely quarterback in the conference to scramble just graduated—if they made it even that long. So that's why the receivers suck right now. Given the recruits the new coaches at Michigan and Ohio State are bringing in and have already, I believe we've reached the nadir.

Comments

jamiemac

September 5th, 2012 at 11:35 AM ^

Man did Heiko reach with Prater and Devin. We'll see how that goes.

None of you picked Fields or Christian Jones from NW? Swing and miss on both counts, guys

jg2112

September 5th, 2012 at 11:45 AM ^

Just a week after Brady Hoke criticized the media for denigrating the abilities of 18-22 year old kids, you change your name to honor Hoke and you title the first column "wide receivers suck?"

That's a real bad look.

jg2112

September 5th, 2012 at 1:03 PM ^

What is tongue-in-cheek about:

Hokepoints: Big Ten Receivers Suck

If I wrote a blog post and titled it:

Peartsticks: Rush's New Album Sucks

I think it'd be somewhat insulting to later backtrack and say, "Hey Clockwork Angels has great material on this album, but the engineering isn't the best," because that's not what I said in the headline.

Seth

September 5th, 2012 at 2:07 PM ^

You know what the #1 single-genre music site on the internet is? Metalsucks.net. You know what the blog is about? Metal music. I think people are capable of getting the tongue-in-cheekiness of "sucks" as applied by a blog with well established snark credentials.

zlionsfan

September 5th, 2012 at 12:44 PM ^

is that they went from being a spread team with a hilariiously immobile quarterback (the option plays they tried to run looked as bad as Painter did in a Colts uniform) to a team with a bunch of QBs with little-to-no experience and questionable health. The running game was more of a necessity than anything else. (There are also questions as to whether or not Gary Nord can even run an offense, much less one that utilizes that crazy "pass" thing the kids keep talking about.)

Also, QB rotation = death to offense.