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:
|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)|
|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)|
|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)|
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
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|
|Chris Fields||4||5.9||19||OSU||2009||On team (but kinda busty)|
|Keenan Davis||4||5.9||21||IOWA||2009||On team|
|Hayo Carpenter||4||5.9||n/a||MINN||2009||Graduated (was JC transfer)|
|Cameron Gordon||4||5.8||36||MICH||2009||Moved to defense|
|O.J. Ross||4||5.8||40||PUR||2010||On team|
|Roy Roundtree||4||5.8||44||MICH||2008||On team|
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
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).
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 Doss (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|
|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?
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. Here comes a box of numbers that mean very, very little:
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|
|Michigan St.||2,435||171||14.2 (7th)||269||9.05||4th||7th|
|Ohio State||702||43||16.3 (2nd)||88||7.98||6th||5th|
|Penn State||1,734||109||15.9 (3rd)||231||7.51||9th||11th|
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
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|
|Ohio State||Braxton Miller||159||715||157||1/1|
|Northwestern||Kain Colter/Dan Persa||238||1430||379||5/8|
|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|
|Ohio St.||Todd Boeckman||56||63||298||1/5|
|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|
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.