Hokepoints: Go-To Receivers

Submitted by Seth on April 23rd, 2014 at 3:49 PM



More fun with stats! CFBStats helpfully grabs every play off the NCAA's box scores and turns lines like "Devin Gardner pass complete to Jeremy Gallon for 14 yards" into downloadable data on receiver targeting. Here's where Gardner's passes went last year by down:

Receiver Target(%) 1st Dn 2nd Dn 3rd Dn
Total passes 395 (n/a) 142 144 105
Jeremy Gallon 137 (35%) 43% 28% 34%
Devin Funchess 92 (23%) 25% 18% 28%
Drew Dileo 30 (8%) 6% 5% 12%
Jake Butt 27 (7%) 3% 13% 4%
Jehu Chesson 24 (6%) 4% 8% 6%
Jeremy Jackson 10 (3%) 3% 3% 1%
Joe Reynolds 7 (2%) 2% 3% -
A.J. Williams 2 (1%) - 1% -
Fitz Toussaint 20 (5%) 4% 8% 3%
Other backs 23 (6%) 6% 6% 6%
[nobody] 23 (6%) 5% 6% 8%

There were four passes on 4th down: two that Funchess converted and two that Dileo didn't. For our purposes I'm going to count them with 3rd downs because they're functionally the same (i.e. not converting is a failure). When every preview this year says defenses will be focused on taking away Funchess, you can see why: most every other target from last year is graduated or not immediately available (Butt). The data also show whether each reception ended up in a 1st down:

Receiver 1st/2nd Dn Conv% 3rd/4th Dn Conv%
Jeremy Gallon 45/101 45% 15/36 42%
Devin Funchess 21/61 34% 12/31 39%
Drew Dileo 5/15 33% 7/15 47%
Jake Butt 11/23 48% 2/4 50%
Jehu Chesson 6/18 33% 3/6 50%
Fitz Toussaint 7/17 41% 1/3 33%
Team 105/286 37% 44/109 40%

I don't know if the conversion rate for 1st and 2nd down will be that valuable except as a measure of team dink-and-dunk-iness. The numbers for conversion downs show tendency and success. Again, nothing surprising here. Gallon and Funchess remained equal targets, with Dileo the only other likely 3rd down destination.

Was it common for teams to be so focused on a few guys? Well those 3rd down targeting numbers are high. Gallon was the recipient of just over a third of Michigan's 3rd/4th down attempts; that's 7th in the nation at go-to-guyness. The rest:

Receiver School Tm Att Tgts Conv %
Alex Amidon Boston College 106 43 (41%) 42%
Jordan Matthews Vanderbilt 104 39 (38%) 38%
Shaun Joplin Bowling Green 114 41 (36%) 49%
Willie Snead Ball State 131 47 (36%) 55%
Allen Robinson Penn State 129 46 (36%) 43%
Ryan Grant Tulane 133 46 (35%) 46%
Jeremy Gallon Michigan 109 36 (33%) 42%
Ty Montgomery Stanford 100 33 (33%) 55%
Titus Davis Central Michigan 98 32 (33%) 56%
Quincy Enunwa Nebraska 112 36 (32%) 33%

Gallon was as important of a chain-mover for Michigan as A-Rob was to Penn State. What's weird is Michigan's 2nd guy was also really high on the list. Funchess (29% of 3rd/4th down targets, 39% conversion rate) also appears on the national leaderboard, at 19th, right behind Jared Abbrederis.

[After the jump: Michigan was the most obvious team in the country, finding Dileo-like objects, target types.]

Here's a list of 2013 teams that had half or more of its chain-moving passes go to one of two guys:

Teams w/ 50%+ 3rd/4th down passes to just 2 dudes % of targets
Rk School Top receiver targets 1st guy 2nd guy Total
1 Michigan Jeremy Gallon & Devin Funchess 33% 28% 61%
2 Ball State Willie Snead & Jordan Williams 36% 25% 61%
3 LSU Jarvis Landry & Odell Beckham Jr. 32% 24% 56%
4 Tulane Ryan Grant & Justyn Shackleford 35% 21% 56%
5 Army Chevaughn Lawrence & Xavier Moss 30% 24% 54%
6 Georgia State Albert Wilson & Robert Davis 29% 24% 53%
7 Boston College Alex Amidon & David Dudeck 41% 12% 53%
8 Kansas State Tyler Lockett & Curry Sexton 31% 21% 53%
8 Nebraska Quincy Enunwa & Kenny Bell 32% 20% 52%
10 Vanderbilt Jordan Matthews & Jerron Seymour 38% 13% 51%
11 Eastern Michigan Dustin Creel & Tyreese Russell 27% 24% 51%
12 Baylor Antwan Goodley & Clay Fuller 30% 21% 51%
13 Kent State Chris Humphrey & Tyshon Goode 27% 24% 50%
14 Notre Dame DaVaris Daniels & TJ Jones 29% 21% 50%

Unsurprisingly these are all schools with a big drop-off in production after their top two guys. A few MAC teams and one that's reclassifying had the parity of Gallon/Funchess; the rest were "we have this guy and we have this other guy when that guy's not open," kinda like how Al Attles used to go around bragging that he and a Philadelphia teammate once combined for 117 points in a game against the Knicks.

When you add Dileo (14%) fully 75% of Michigan's passes on 3rd or 4th down were going to one of three guys; Ball State's Dileo put them at 77% but nobody else is close. A list of three-guy-focused teams is a lot like the above, except KSU's third guy, Tramaine Thompson, was targeted as much as Sexton; and Troy Niklas added to Notre Dame's star duo is good for 6th.

Is there really another guy like Dileo?

If you don't count power-sliding kick holds, because that'd be unfair

One of my favorite memes from the last few years was Dileo=The Threat. As you can see in the first table, half of the passes that went Dileo's way were on 3rd or 4th downs. I wondered if I could find any more "possession"-type guys who got more than 50% of their targets on conversion downs. Answer: about 20 of them.

The leader was Iowa's Jacob Hillyer, who had 14 targets on 3rd/4th down and just seven on normal downs. Boston College's David Dudeck was Hillyer minus one 3rd down attempt. There are two guys from Minnesota, two guys from San Diego State, and two guys from Kansas, including Brandon Bourbon, who only hauled in two his 16 attempts.

You're seeing a lot of repeats because these are schools who did an overly large share of their passing on 3rd down. The run-run Gophers had 44% of their passes on 3rd/4th downs for tops in the nation, and Dudeck's Eagles were behind that at 40% (Michigan, at 28%, was 88th). Ignoring teams from that nature I found five other individuals who might qualify as a Dileo-like weapon. I'm further disqualifying Ka'Deem Carey of Arizona and Senorise Perry of Louisville, since they only actually converted 1 in 4 of those opportunities. That leaves:

Receiver Team Ht/Wt Tgts 3rd/4th Conv%
Ronald Butler Utah State 6'0/185 36 19 (53%) 68%
Drew Dileo Michigan 5'10/180 30 15 (50%) 47%
D.D. Goodson Colorado 5'6/170 46 25 (54%) 44%
Kevin Cummings Oregon St 6'1/184 39 23 (59%) 35%

Cummings isn't 6'1 any more than Dileo is 5'10, by the way. He and Goodson were seniors, so only Ronald Butler returns.

Other than Jake Butt at the end of the year Michigan's TEs were dismal at receiving. [Glanzman]

A slice of tight end heaven

Out of curiosity I also pulled that stats on which teams targeted receivers most often as opposed to tight ends, running backs, or other things. I took out the passes that went to nobody and reclassified as many ATHs and CBs and DEs as RBs or WRs or TEs as googling and time would permit. Results: at 32.5% Michigan was second in the country in the proportion of passes to tight en…waitaminute.

/reclassifies Funchess as a receiver

/refreshes pivot table

Michigan was about 88th in the country at targets to tight ends. The breakdown was 83% of passes to receivers, 8% to tight ends, and 10% to the backs. Thing we are most like: Boise State (84% WR, 8% TE, 9% RB). Here's that breakdown for next year's schedule:

2014 Opponent Targets Yards
Appalachian State 89% 3% 8% 81% 10% 9%
Notre Dame 72% 17% 11% 75% 20% 5%
Miami (Ohio) 77% 15% 8% 78% 16% 6%
Utah 65% 15% 20% 71% 16% 12%
Minnesota 64% 21% 15% 56% 28% 16%
Rutgers 63% 20% 17% 66% 21% 13%
Penn State 70% 23% 7% 70% 24% 6%
Michigan State 74% 11% 15% 78% 11% 11%
Indiana 75% 13% 12% 81% 9% 10%
Northwestern 71% 11% 12% 75% 14% 11%
Maryland 79% 8% 13% 84% 6% 9%
Ohio State 65% 13% 21% 65% 19% 16%
Michigan 83% 8% 10% 84% 7% 9%

The lack of production from tight ends given how many Michigan deployed…well you know that already. Most of those TE yards were Butt's so until he's back I would hope Nussmeier plans on using slot receivers and multi-back sets unless Bunting can block. 



April 23rd, 2014 at 3:54 PM ^

our RB.  In college football, defenses are typically pretty bad in covering RBs comming out of the backfield.  In Alabama he used his backs a good amount. But not the TE.

I Like Burgers

April 23rd, 2014 at 4:17 PM ^

I hope De'Veon Smith spends the summer catching 1000s of passes.  With his shiftiness and ability to stay on his feet, he could be a great target out of the backfield.


April 23rd, 2014 at 4:23 PM ^

I never get tired of seeing that kick against NW. Say what you want about the state of the program, but it's still damn entertaining watching these guys every year.

Space Coyote

April 23rd, 2014 at 4:44 PM ^

But targets to Funchess prior to Minnesota were all at TE. He had a couple in some other games (I remember a pop pass or two against MSU, for instance) as he would line up at TE and Michigan would proceed to pass the ball, but if you just take the receptions by Funchess pre-Minn (8) that's a 2% shift.

I can't find where you found targets on cfbstats (probably have to download the data, and this is minor, so, yeah, not gonna happen), and you may have lumped that in anyway, but I'm guessing if you take all targets it probably moves Michigan in the ~11-12% of passes to TEs last year.

What may be interesting is how do Nussmeier's numbers compare at Alabama. Obviously, one team does not equal the other in terms of OL, WR depth, RB depth, TE depth, screw Alabama, etc., but it would be interesting to see where optimally (I think we can declare Alabama's situation as close to optimal) Nuss will end up. I'd guess based on film he's about 15% targets to TEs, mostly in the flats or crossing routes (but the occasional corner route too), but he had a derth of skill at WR and RB to work with. I would also expect his RB breakdown to be much higher.

Also, we can just agree now that App St is only throwing the TEs on deep seems off of play action or screen action, right? 3% of targets, 10% of yards. 


April 23rd, 2014 at 7:53 PM ^

"Obviously, one team does not equal the other in terms of OL, WR depth, RB depth, TE depth, screw Alabama, etc., but it would be interesting to see where optimally (I think we can declare Alabama's situation as close to optimal) Nuss will end up."

I wouldn't consider this a disclaimer so much as a full-blown valid counterpoint.  Not to pick on you personally but something about this sticks in my craw.  I'm not interested in what Nuss considers "optimal"; in fact I couldn't care less.  It's OK for an OC to have strengths (tho if you have too many weaknesses you're not going to coach for very long) but I don't trust a college OC that has preferences.  When I look at the roster, my head bubbles with ideas on how I'd want to deploy them; I don't go writing a wish list of players I don't have or pretending a guy who's 6'5", 230 lbs is a tight end.  You wanna play fantasy football, there's. . . well, there's fantasy football.

I suppose your underlying assumption is that an OC adjusts on the interim while recruiting/building toward the "optimal", and that can happen to some extent, but I still think this is an individual weakness because it creates the sort of tunnel vision that results in a glut of players that look the part but can't play while playmakers slip away because they don't look the part.

In my opinion, programs have coaches not to work toward optimal, but because reality is never optimal.

Space Coyote

April 23rd, 2014 at 8:19 PM ^

The optimal comment only implied that Alabama is stacked everywhere, and therefore can essentially run whatever they want and be successful. Most offenses don't have that luxury, and I agree you play to the strengths, all I was getting at was that no matter what Nuss did at Bama he was pretty much playing to their strength.

Ron Utah

April 23rd, 2014 at 6:08 PM ^

Love the data.  Another stat-like substance that would interest me would be tackles that prevented a third/fourth down conversion vs. tackles on early downs.


April 23rd, 2014 at 8:43 PM ^

Here's last year. Funchess is a TE in these stats until Minnesota, obviously.

Opponent Base Offense Targets Yards
CMU MANBALL 72% 22% 6% 76% 25% 0%
Notre Dame Gardnereffit 65% 32% 3% 77% 12% 11%
Akron MANBALL 67% 26% 7% 48% 37% 15%
Connecticut MANBALL 75% 15% 10% 69% 24% 7%
Minnesota Tackle Over 94% 6% 0% 100% 0% 0%
Penn State Tackle Over 83% 8% 8% 95% 3% 2%
Indiana Max Pro 93% 4% 4% 95% 0% 5%
MSU Max Pro 96% 0% 4% 99% 0% 1%
Nebraska Max Pro) 74% 11% 15% 63% 15% 21%
NW'ern Grab bag 86% 7% 7% 87% 9% 4%
Iowa Grab bag 82% 4% 14% 68% 2% 30%
Ohio State Grab bag 70% 15% 15% 66% 19% 15%
Kansas St Morris 70% 8% 22% 69% 17% 14%
Total ???? 78% 12% 10% 79% 12% 9%



April 24th, 2014 at 2:56 PM ^

holy cow #1 - I just aired out a thought.  I hope you didn't spend more than fifteen seconds on that.  I feel spoiled now; thank you.

holy cow #2 - great jumpin' jeebus tackle over / max protect was koo-koo in favor of the receivers.


April 24th, 2014 at 5:51 AM ^

Is it bad that I saw the pic of Funchess on the front page and got hit with a wave of panic? Figured it was either an ACL tear or transfer thread.

I think I need some time away from M football...