When various national previews started counting Ohio State’s receivers group as one of the best in the country, I was a little skeptical at first. Sure, the group has a lot of solid contributors and returns everyone, but were we overvaluing returning production at the expense of elite talent?
But after looking at the group’s marginal efficiency and marginal explosiveness ratings from Bill C’s preview, I could better understand the hype for the group, especially with Dwayne Haskins taking over at quarterback.
However, what we were really still missing was the national context. Despite seeing how the receivers compare with one another, we didn’t have a sense for how they compared to receivers across the country.
Thanks to Bill’s recently published receivers data, we can do that now. So here are a ton of charts about the 2017 receivers. In the charts below, the national average is based on all receivers only (no tight ends or running backs) who had 30+ targets last season. All six of Ohio State’s top receiving targets had at least 30 targets last season, so it made a convenient cutoff so that the averages wouldn’t be influenced by outliers.
All of Ohio State’s top receivers, and Marcus Baugh, had a success rate higher than the national average of 47.4%. Parris Campbell and Austin Mack, who project as the top targets in 2018, had the best success rates last season amongst the group.
This also brings up why Terry McLaurin didn’t play a more prominent role last season, despite being third among receivers in success rate.
Catch rate vs. yards per catch
This chart helps get at which receivers were the most sure-handed vs. which ones had the biggest gains when they did catch the ball. It’s also a non-opponent-adjusted way of looking at efficiency vs. explosiveness.
The results aren’t too surprising. The two slot receivers, Parris Campbell and K.J. Hill, who often catch passes closer to the line of scrimmage, had the highest catch rates. Campbell had a signficantly higher average yards per catch, though.
And unsurprisingly, Johnnie Dixon outpaced the rest of the receivers in yards per catch, averaging 23.4. Dixon was also more boom-or-bust than most of the rest of the room, catching just 52.9% of his passes, which was under the national average of 60.6%.
The only other receiver with a lower catch rate than Dixon was Binjimen Victor, who caught 51.1% of his passes, but also averaged 15.2 yards per catch, which was within the range of the other receivers on the roster.
This chart also doesn’t make Austin Mack— who arguably shows the most promise in terms of being an NFL receiver— look much different than the national average in either catch rate or average yards per catch.
Distribution of targets
This chart captures why the receivers appear more or less interchangeable at first glance — the passing targets were distributed fairly evenly among the top seven targets, with no one getting more than 22% or less than 10% of targets, including Baugh.
We should expect this to change with Haskins coming in, especially if he develops a rapport with certain receivers, or if Brian Hartline changes the rotation in and out of games.
Marginal efficiency and marginal explosiveness
I also looked at marginal efficiency and marginal explosiveness in my last article on the receivers, but this time I included the national averages for comparable receiving targets.
Here is the definition for those two terms:
Marginal Efficiency: the difference between a player’s success rate* (passing, rushing, or receiving) or success rate allowed (for an individual defender) and the expected success rate of each play based on down, distance, and yard line.
Marginal Explosiveness: the difference between a player’s IsoPPP** (passing, rushing, or receiving) or IsoPPP allowed (for an individual defender) and the expected IsoPPP value of each play based on down, distance, and yard line.
For offensive players, the larger the positive value, the better. For defensive players, it’s the opposite — the more negative, the better.
These give a much better sense for efficiency and explosiveness than just catch rate and yards per catch, because they factor in expected efficiency and explosiveness based on down, distance, and yard line.
Here, Victor’s low catch rate is eased by above-average marginal efficiency, while Dixon still looks ridiculously explosive. In fact, as discussed before, all Ohio State receivers were marginally more efficient than the national average. However, Mack and Hill were less explosive than the national average, too.
Clemson vs. Ohio State
I thought it might be valuable to not only compare the Ohio State receivers with the national average as a single data point, but also with a similarly elite group of receivers. Phil Steele ranks Clemson with the 8th-best group of receivers heading in to 2018.
Overall, comparing the units is pretty favorable to Ohio State. Tee Higgins might end up the best receiver of the two groups, and there might be more potential on the Tigers’ roster, but in 2017 the Buckeyes had comparable or better receivers in both marginal efficiency and explosiveness.
Buckeyes vs. all receivers
This final chart isn’t the best visualization, but it contains marginal efficiency and marginal explosiveness data for all receivers with at least 30 targets in 2017. It also includes a trend line, although it’s deceptive given that the correlation coefficient between marginal efficiency and marginal explosiveness is only -.02 — i.e., it’s hardly there.
Holy moly was Johnnie Dixon explosive! Only four receivers had a higher marginal explosiveness rating than Dixon’s 1.23.
Really, compared with the national average, the Ohio State receiving corps was solidly efficient, which is really an offense’s top priority. The group as a whole could definitely use an upgrade in explosiveness, but another year in the Ryan Day/Kevin Wilson passing offense, as well as better ball placement from Haskins could allow for increased yards after catch. Further, Haskins might be more willing to push the ball downfield, or to target downfield receivers on lower percentage throws or in smaller windows.
That brings up a wider point about how these numbers are significantly impacted by the quarterback — an elite passer can certainly make the receivers look much better. But it’s certainly fair to say that the Buckeye receiving corps is solid enough to expect big things from the passing game in 2018 assuming that Haskins lives up to expectations.