Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

07 Oct 2011

VN: Targets, Catches and Kendall Wright

by Bill Connelly

This week at Football Study Hall, I posted a Google document with some data related to targets and catches. Obviously this has been a key piece of data in the NFL for a number of years, pervasive enough to make its way into the ESPN box scores. At the college level, however, it has been ignored. But it is so incredibly descriptive (and easy to understand) that I'm taking steps toward rectifying that.

The definitions used here pretty simple:

  • Targets: the sum of a player's catches and incomplete passes directed at the player. Only between 85 and 90 percent of a team's passes include target data; interceptions and some throwaways do not.
  • Catches: receptions.
  • Catch Rate: receptions divided by targets.
  • Target Rate: a player's receptions divided by the team's total targets.
  • Yards Per Target: receiving yards divided by targets.

Here are some of the interesting tidbits target data can teach us thus far about the 2011 season.

Highest Target Rate
1. Jared McFarlin, Army (50.0%)
2. A.J. Jenkins, Illinois (49.0%)
3. Kendall Wright, Baylor (46.9%)
4. Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech (46.9%)
5. Mohamed Sanu, Rutgers (46.9%)

It would be easy to make the case that Sanu's numbers are getting hurt from receiving too much attention. His catch rate of 62.3 percent is not bad, but in averaging only 10.0 yards per catch, he is averaging just 6.2 yards per target, well below the national average of 9.1 yards for a No. 1 target. This, by the way, is quite a bit higher than last year's No. 1 target average of around 8.1. We'll see if that shrinks as we get further removed from non-conference cupcake games.

Jenkins, Wright and Hill, meanwhile, are producing at simply ridiculous levels. Jenkins carried Illinois back from an 18-point deficit versus Northwestern this past weekend and is catching 80 percent of the passes coming his way. He is averaging 12.7 yards per target in Illinois' run-first, run-second offense. Wright, meanwhile, one-ups him in every category. His catch rate is an incredible 87 percent, and he is averaging 15.8 yards per catch as the primary big-play man in a big-play offense. Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III is compiling a rock solid Heisman resume, but he is getting a lot of help from Wright. Hill, meanwhile, has done a wonderful Demaryius Thomas impersonation this year: 23 targets, 15 catches (a 65 percent catch rate), 502 yards (21.8 per target). Tech does not throw often in Paul Johnson's flexbone, but they are so much better when they are completing the occasional bomb. (Then again, who isn't?) Thus far, Hill has been one of the most valuable players in the country.

Highest Catch Rate (Min. 15 Targets)
1. Giovani Bernard, North Carolina (94.1%, 17 targets)
2. Dallin Rogers, Utah (94.1%, 17 targets)
3. Eric Ward, Texas Tech (90.9%, 22 targets)
4. Jeremiah Ostrowski, Hawaii (90.5%, 21 targets)
5. A.J. Guyton, Central Florida (88.9%, 18 targets)
6. Marcus Mathews, BYU (88.9%, 18 targets)
7. Travis Benjamin, Miami (88.2%, 17 targets)
8. Hubie Graham, Pittsburgh (88.2%, 17 targets)
9. Ronnie Wingo, Jr., Arkansas (87.5%, 16 targets)
10. Juwan Thompson, Duke (87.5%, 16 targets)
11. Kendall Wright, Baylor (87.0%, 46 targets)

High catch rates usually signify usage of running backs, tight ends, and possession receivers: dump-off targets who do not average much on a per-catch basis but are reliable targets. Of the top 10 receivers above, only Guyton (14.6) and Graham (12.4) average more than 11.5 yards per catch. This should very much illustrate how rare Wright's season has been to date. Home run hitters (and at 15.8 yards per catch, Wright qualifies as such) do not catch 87 percent of their targeted passes.

Highest Yards Per Target Average (Min. 15 Targets)
1. Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech (21.8 yards per target, 23 targets)
2. Jalen Saunders, Fresno State (16.5 yards per target, 28 targets)
3. Marquess Wilson, Washington State (16.2 yards per target, 34 targets)
4. Junior Hemingway, Michigan (15.7 yards per target, 17 targets)
5. Justin Hunter, Tennessee (15.7 yards per target, 20 targets)
6. Jaz Reynolds, Oklahoma (15.6 yards per target, 15 targets)
7. Rashad Greene, Florida State (15.5 yards per target, 19 targets)
8. Nick Toon, Wisconsin (14.9 yards per target, 30 targets)
9. Chris Rainey, Florida (14.5 yards per target, 17 targets)
10. Chris Givens, Wake Forest (14.2 yards per target, 35 targets)

Chris Rainey's presence on this list signifies his unique skill set. He is by far Florida's No. 1 rusher, posting 415 yards (5.6 per carry). At the same time, he is also the Gators' No. 2 receiver (No. 1: Deonte Thompson, with 19 targets, just two more than Rainey). Charlie Weis is very good at utilizing a player's unique talents, and he has figured out a lot of ways to get Rainey the ball. Not that any of them worked against Alabama, but nothing works against Alabama this year.

Highest Yards Per Target Average On Standard Downs (Min. 10 Standard Downs targets)
1. Stephen Hill, Georgia (24.6 yards per target, 11 targets)
2. Mike Davis, Texas (21.9 yards per target, 10 targets)
3. Jalen Saunders, Fresno State (18.6 yards per target, 19 targets)
4. Marquess Wilson, Washington State (18.1 yards per target, 18 targets)
5. Jaxon Shipley, Texas (17.4 yards per target, 11 targets)

The presence of two Texas receivers on this list is fitting, as with a rotation of two young quarterbacks and multiple young targets, they are getting somewhere on standard downs, but they are still very much a work in progress on passing downs.

Highest Yards Per Target Average On Passing Downs (Min. 10 Passing Downs targets)
1. Stephen Hill, Georgia Tech (19.3 yards per target, 12 targets)
2. Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma (17.9 yards per target, 15 targets)
3. T.J. Graham, N.C. State (17.9 yards per target, 13 targets)
4. Kendall Wright, Baylor (16.7 yards per target, 12 targets)
5. Tavon Austin, West Virginia (16.0 yards per target, 11 targets)

It is worth mentioning that Wright's catch rate actually goes up on passing downs -- it is 91.7 percent. He has had a special year so far. Of course, the most important Griffin-to-Wright pass of the season, a fourth-down attempt late in the game versus Kansas State, was batted down at the line.

This Week on SB Nation

It was a bit more of an SEC-heavy week at SBN than I typically prefer (being a Big 12 guy, after all ... unless Mizzou makes a move, anyway), but I go where the story lines take me. There will be a Red River Rivalry piece going up tomorrow morning as well.

F/+ Rankings

There were no moves among the Top Five, but suddenly, teams No. 6 through 9 are quite interesting. As always, full F/+ rankings can be found here.

RK TEAM RECORD F/+ LAST
WK
CHANGE S&P+ RK FEI RK
1 Alabama 5-0 +37.4% 1 +0 297.8 1 0.303 2
2 Oklahoma 4-0 +29.0% 2 +0 264.3 3 0.298 3
3 LSU 5-0 +26.8% 3 +0 254.0 6 0.304 1
4 Wisconsin 5-0 +24.9% 4 +0 258.0 4 0.247 4
5 Boise State 4-0 +24.9% 5 +0 269.4 2 0.191 11
6 Michigan 5-0 +22.2% 12 +6 248.1 11 0.241 6
7 Stanford 4-0 +21.9% 6 -1 249.7 8 0.227 7
8 Georgia Tech 5-0 +21.4% 11 +3 248.1 10 0.225 8
9 Notre Dame 3-2 +20.2% 13 +4 255.7 5 0.164 16
10 Oregon 3-1 +20.1% 8 -2 253.4 7 0.172 15
11 Oklahoma State 4-0 +19.6% 7 -4 243.4 12 0.211 10
12 Florida 4-1 +19.0% 9 -3 248.2 9 0.177 14
13 Texas A&M 2-2 +17.3% 14 +1 239.5 15 0.184 13
14 Clemson 5-0 +15.9% 17 +3 221.4 32 0.244 5
15 Arkansas 4-1 +15.5% 16 +1 231.4 20 0.187 12
RK TEAM RECORD F/+ LAST
WK
CHANGE S&P+ RK FEI RK
16 West Virginia 4-1 +14.6% 23 +7 221.9 31 0.215 9
17 Tennessee 3-1 +13.9% 24 +7 234.6 16 0.140 18
18 Virginia Tech 4-1 +13.8% 10 -8 243.2 14 0.096 27
19 North Carolina 4-1 +12.3% 30 +11 233.0 18 0.115 22
20 Michigan State 4-1 +12.1% 32 +12 233.6 17 0.109 25
21 Penn State 4-1 +11.9% 18 -3 243.3 13 0.059 39
22 Florida State 2-2 +11.9% 19 -3 231.1 22 0.118 21
23 Texas 4-0 +11.4% 31 +8 230.7 23 0.110 23
24 Pittsburgh 3-2 +11.0% 28 +4 218.5 35 0.160 17
25 South Carolina 4-1 +10.5% 15 -10 227.1 26 0.109 24

"What The...?" Team of the Week

Notre Dame. It would be easy to put Michigan here as well, just as a reason to point out that our "Michigan makes the Big Ten title game" prediction in the Football Outsiders Almanac 2011 is beginning to look a lot smarter, but instead we'll go with the two loss team that ranks ahead of Oklahoma State, Clemson and Texas. It should really be no surprise that the irish rank so well in terms of S&P+ -- on a per-play basis, they have been magnificent, easily outplaying each of their five opponents. The problem is, they don't just make mistakes, they commit harakiri. They don't just turn the ball over, they turn the ball over inside the opponent's five-yard line. Then they do it again. They lost to both South Florida and Michigan because of cataclysmic turnovers, and though they managed to make some strong mistakes against Pittsburgh and Michigan State as well, they have continued to prove all season that if they don't commit about three touchdowns' worth of mistakes, they're going to win. And if they do make that level of mistakes, they will still barely lose.

And yes, there might be a bit of irony involved in the fact that after years of seemingly getting overrated in the polls, the Irish are now somewhat ignored by the polls and propped up by cold, hard numbers.

Big Movers

Notable Rises

Washington (22 spots, from 74th to 52nd). Alright, Washington, I'm paying attention. The preseason projections did not think much of the Huskies, but with only a road loss to Nebraska dinging their record, and with a nice (albeit turnover-driven) road win over Utah last week, they might end up overachieving quite a bit. Now that I've said that, watch them lose to Colorado at home tomorrow.

Duke (18 spots, from 84th to 66th). With a road win over a solid Florida International squad, the Blue Devils have now won three games in a row for just the second time since October 1994, meaning they will take bowl hopes into at least November. It's still a longshot (even if they beat Wake Forest at home and Virginia on the road, they still have to find another win somewhere, probably on the road), but cut the Blue Devils some slack on this one.

Syracuse (15 spots, from 85th to 70th). I think I'll just write this rise off on the random effects of phasing out preseason projections. The Orange certainly didn't deserve a "Notable Rises" designation after their turnover-laden home loss to Rutgers this past weekend.

Wake Forest (13 spots, from 87th to 74th). Wake has also won three games in a row and moved to 2-0 in the ACC with their road victory over reeling Boston College. Their path to bowl eligibility is a bit easier than Duke's, though the Oct. 22 trip to Durham is a big one in that regard.

Others: Toledo (55th to 36th), Tulsa (72nd to 54th), Duke (84th to 66th), Hawaii (77th to 60th), Western Michigan (54th to 39th), SMU (63rd to 48th), Central Michigan (114th to 101st), Michigan State (32nd to 20th), Cincinnati (44th to 32nd).

Notable Tumbles

Minnesota (22 spots, from 81st to 103rd). The Gophers barely lost to USC on the season's opening weekend. Since then, they've lost to both New Mexico State and North Dakota State at home, and they got mauled, 58-0, in Ann Arbor this past weekend. Yikes.

Iowa State (21 spots, from 62nd to 83rd). The Cyclones looked awful against Texas last Saturday, falling down 34-0 at halftime. They looked better in the second-half, but at that point, the game had already entered garbage time.

South Florida (13 spots, from 21st to 34th). The Bulls got run off the field by Pittsburgh in the second half of last Thursday night's loss. They are still a solid team, but this seems like a pretty accurate market correction, no?

Maryland (12 spots, from 60th to 72nd). Like Minnesota, Maryland looked promising in Week 1 with a fun win over Miami, but since then they've gotten blown out at home by Temple (38-7) and outgained by Towson in a 28-3 win in which they only led 7-3 at halftime. Randy Edsall's Terrapins are trending in the wrong direction.

Others: Bowling Green (from 59th to 84th), Miami-Ohio (from 80th to 97th), Arkansas State (61st to 76th), Northern Illinois (58th to 73rd), East Carolina (53rd to 68th), Troy (68th to 82nd), Ohio (42nd to 56th), Temple (25th to 37th).

Upset Watch

Tennessee over Georgia (Spread: Tennessee +2 | F/+ Projection: Tennessee by 7.9). The F/+ ratings are high on the Vols, who face a tough slate of West Division opponents but could make themselves a player in the East race with a win in Knoxville tomorrow.

Kansas State over Missouri (Spread: Missouri -3 | F/+ Projection: Missouri by 0.4). As I mentioned on SB Nation this week, if Mizzou is receiving no AP votes, and Kansas State is ranked 20th, but Mizzou is favored in a road game versus KSU, what exactly are we ranking right now?

Oregon State over Arizona (Spread: Arizona -2 | F/+ Projection: Arizona by 0.7). Nick Foles deserves better. He is posting some damn impressive stats on a team that is now 1-4 after facing a September stretch that was beyond rugged: at Oklahoma State, Stanford, Oregon, at USC. If the Wildcats are going to rebound, it starts with this trip to Corvallis.

Minnesota over Purdue (Spread: Purdue -10.5 | F/+ Projection: Purdue by 3.0). After documenting Minnesota's struggles above, let's just say that this projection reflects a lot stronger on Purdue than it does on Minnesota.

Favorite Moment of Last Weekend

Actually, I didn't actually witness my favorite moment of the weekend until a couple of days after the weekend ended. I am a sucker for anything that clearly shows outsiders how fun college football can be, and therefore I probably enjoyed Wisconsin fans' rendition of "Build Me Up, Buttercup" a bit too much. If this doesn't make you at least smile, you probably aren't meant to be a college football fan.

Posted by: Bill Connelly on 07 Oct 2011

3 comments, Last at 08 Oct 2011, 4:44pm by TC

Comments

1
by Portmanteur :: Fri, 10/07/2011 - 5:55pm

Woah, that Wisconsin video is absolutely incredible.

Who will be the first to put that in their College Football 2011 Season Montage? Mid-season montage? Just, wow.

2
by Kal :: Fri, 10/07/2011 - 10:58pm

I'm still baffled how Oregon lost 5 points via FEI on their bye week, especially after Arizona actually looked competent. I guess the Nevada team doing whatever they were doing didn't help?

I'm also expecting S&P to hate them after the Cal game because of the standard 'do meh in first half, explode in showcase of offensive firepower in second' and what that does to S&P. We welcome back our vexing Oregon overlords.

3
by TC (not verified) :: Sat, 10/08/2011 - 4:44pm

The best part about living near Camp Randall happens when one of these songs comes on -- they give the exact same treatment to Cecelia and Sweet Caroline, and you can hear every word from half a mile away. Not to mention what it sounds like during Jump Around.