The value of returning receivers

Submitted by Gulogulo37 on September 18th, 2017 at 11:51 PM…

I may have missed it, but I haven't seen this diary mentioned specifically in any main blog or board post this year. I remember it well because it was surprising to me as well. All I can recall is Brian saying WRs usually don't put up big stats in their first year.

People seem to assume WR is like RB in that speed, size, and athleticism trump experience, but the Mathlete found in 2010 that returning WR experience is one of the biggest factors when predicting an offense's production. He doesn't mention TEs in his post, but obviously that's a big element in Harbaugh's offense as well. We went from having 2 senior WRs and a senior TE to NO seniors, 1 junior slot who missed a bunch of time,1 junior WR who has barely seen the field his entire career, and 1 junior TE who has strangely disappeared despite looking like the heir apparent. Sure, Speight isn't playing well, but we probably should have expected such an underwhelming passing game based on the losses of our receiving threats alone, at least at this point in the season anyway.


Here's what the Mathlete wrote:

Wide Receiver 

This was the position that shocked me.  I always considered the wide receiver position to be largely talent driven with little thought given to the value of experience for receivers.  

In one of the strongest correlations I found, each decile of returning wide receiver experience was worth a half a point per game improvement.  Even more surprising, the improvement wasn't restricted to the passing game.  Of the half point improvement, only .3 ppg could be attributed to the passing game.  Veteran wide receivers play a huge role in a team's progress.  This may have been a fluky correlation for 2008-2009 but within the data set, it had one of the highest R squared values I found at 0.72.


I Like Burgers

September 19th, 2017 at 12:02 AM ^

I was one of the many that bought into the preseason WR hype and thought we'd be even better than last year. Clearly I was wrong. While Chesson, Darboh, and Butt didn't light up the stat sheets it would appear they had a lot more value in simply being able to get open and be reliable.

The PSU game is probably a lost cause unless the defense and ST bails us out, but hopefully they are more upperclassmen like by Ohio State.


September 19th, 2017 at 4:37 AM ^

Lost cause is a little harsh. Let's not underestimate the power of James Franklin to crap the bed just yet.

To me, the biggest experience difference I noticed was in the first down play from the Cincinnati game where Black caught the ball going backwards and they ruled he made himself short of first down. On that play he caught the ball and went back a yard or so, but then started to move up field and got tackled at the line. He kept the ball on his hip, but a more experienced receiver stretches the ball across the line for the first down as they're getting tackled. I remember seeing Darboh and others do this all the time last year and usually it's a relatively safe way to gain an extra yard almost when done right.

I Like Burgers

September 19th, 2017 at 10:42 AM ^

You're right, lost cause is a bit harsh.  However, with just three more warmup games before Penn State, and now without Black, its tough for me to see this offense hitting its stride enough to outscore Penn State on the road.  

But its CFB and stranger things have happened.  Maybe Black going out becomes a blessing in disguise and forces Michigan to go to more of a screen game with DPJ that winds up opening up the offense.  Or maybe Martin comes back from injury soon and he actually is some sort of route ninja that can get open quick.


September 19th, 2017 at 12:02 AM ^

the passing game doesn't suffer from a lack of senior receivers, the run game does. that's not a novel concept and even called out in the referenced post-- senior receivers don't translate to passing tds. additionally, this was a small data set. that being said, I don't disagree that talented and experienced wrs add another edge to strong offenses that we are missing in 3 non conference games


September 19th, 2017 at 12:27 AM ^

Rushing touchdowns per game last year - 3.15

Passing touchdowns per game last year - 1.53


Compare that with this year...

Rushing touchdowns per game - 0.67

Passing touchdowns per game - 1.00


Smith and Hill combined last year for almost 2 per game - and those guys aren't burners doing it on their own.  So I know small sample size and all, but the scoring in the passing game is almost on par with last year.  The scoring on the ground is however not so great, Bob.


September 19th, 2017 at 12:34 AM ^

Is an issue of red zone inefficiency, which has been primarily caused by a porous OL making mental errors in run blocking and blitz pickups. Not really seeing any causal evidence for WR inexperience being the root of redzone struggles based on Brian's UFRs or my breakdown from the Air Force game.


September 19th, 2017 at 10:48 AM ^

It's very apparent that the receivers have a hard time getting open when the pocket breaks down. biggest example is the weird little jump shot that speight tries to get to Crawford in the red zone last week. Veteran receivers will run to the back pylon there. Had Crawford done that, it's a touchdown. you can see speight telling him that after the play. give them time


September 19th, 2017 at 12:45 AM ^

I haven't really seen any of those cool red zone passing plays where receivers are running crossing routes.  Speight his a few of those last year and Rudock hit some of those that I thought would surely be picks.  I dunno.  We are getting to the red zone but not finishing.  Maybe you are right and it is mostly on the OL.  I'd guess with the time and analysis you put into just the red zone scoring from last game, maybe you are right.  Last year felt like the drive to the red zone was the problem.  This year it feels like once we get there we don't know what on Earth to do.


September 19th, 2017 at 9:11 AM ^

Also, if Chris Evans doesn't trip on the turf and Crawford and Isaac don't both get TDs taken back on horrible calls, we should be at about 2.7 TDs per game.

Still significantly worse than last year... but I feel like people need to remember that almost everything from a luck/officiating standpoint has gone against this team this year, yet we are still 3-0.


September 19th, 2017 at 12:20 AM ^

Yes we lost Chesson, Darboh and Butt. The biggest loss was Jed Fisch. Wilton has regressed and it's not due to simply him. There needs to be some accountability on behalf of the new Passing gAmerican coordinator who is also calling plays. That's what has changed. Tired of seeing the kids get beat up. Bad personnel use is killing us in the red zone. That call comes from the box. Our kids are capable. They are NOT being put in position.

I Like Burgers

September 19th, 2017 at 12:50 AM ^

What proof do we have the kids are capable? Not to be a dick, but seriously...what makes you think they are capable? Perry is the only one that has any meaningful experience. Hype =/= capability.

And the red zone issues are the same issues we have elsewhere on the field, it's just a tighter area of the field so they get magnified.


September 19th, 2017 at 1:35 AM ^

Interesting take on Jedd Fisch. I notice that Drevno is in the press box this year instead of the sideline.  It used to be Jedd up there. I think maybe he had a better knack for adjusting on the fly with the all-22 view.

It's still too early for "the sky is falling", but definitely a noticeable difference. Speight threw quite a few beautiful slants into the end zone last year. I don't get the insistence on throwing fade routes, when it clearly isn't his strong suit.


September 19th, 2017 at 7:51 AM ^

Fades don't get intercepted.

If we're truly trying to understand the play-calling, we have to look at it from the perspective of the play-caller. If you're Drevno/Hamilton/Harbaugh and your objective is to beat Air Force (not beat them by 30), you probably recognize that the #1 threat to that objective is Speight throwing into danger like in the Florida game.

Until Speight demonstrates consistency, or until game circumstances dictate taking chances, it's only logical to have Speight throw it where it can't hurt you.


September 19th, 2017 at 10:17 AM ^

Speight only threw 7 INTs last year and only 2 so far this year (on pace for 8-9). He's not unusually INT prone. The only reason we're even talking about his INTs this year is that they were both returned for TDs, but that's not really on him.

If anything he seems more accurate up the middle than he does along the sideline. Heck all his best plays this year are up the middle. Seems like some slants, drags and so on would be a good thing to try.

Then again a couple goal-to-go series featured those types of routes (including the flip pass play) but were blown up by immediate pressure.

Frank Chuck

September 19th, 2017 at 5:37 AM ^

...Jedd Fisch was here for the Iowa, Ohio State, and Florida State games. How much blame do you attribute to Fisch for our offensive struggles in those games?

People are antsy and are searching for reasons. A few idiots are scapegoating Speight or the OC. Honestly, it's a convergence of a number of factors (the QB, the OL, the young skill players, a new PGC, etc.)


September 19th, 2017 at 8:16 AM ^

This ^^^

A convergence of all new things - a little of all of the above...  How much of Speight's 'struggle' can be attributed to having to check the OL alignment/blocking call, the WR's splits, that the RB knows the corner blitz is coming, and the defense alignment vs the play call/audible options?  Speight is doing everything this year, where he didn't have to do any of it last year.  Yet the fanbase (most of it, anyway) wants to crucify the guy as if nobody else would ever make a mistake!


September 19th, 2017 at 12:25 AM ^

Harbaugh and company know exactly what they are doing. The Coaches and players will figure it out. We are trending in the right direction and by the end of the year this train will be unstoppable.


September 19th, 2017 at 7:41 AM ^


Drevno worked a minor miracle with Braden. Magnuson improved quite a bit, although less drastically.

Bredeson is twice the player he was last year. Kugler has turned into a strength.

You don't replace 3/5ths of your line with first year starters and improve, at least not until they get some games under their belt. It is not Drevno's fault that people expected way too much, way too soon.


September 19th, 2017 at 10:54 AM ^

Yeah, it's the idea that at least they have one side they don't have to worry about. When you need a yard, you can turn to them.

I don't know if I agree with it. I'd prefer to not have two new starters on one side. But then again, my job will never come down to a 4th and 1 conversion.


September 19th, 2017 at 1:26 AM ^

To me this argues making him a bigger part of the game plan. He has proven to be reliable (on the field) and has been mentioned more than a few times on this site, he gets open!