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Do the Buckeyes have any elite receivers?

Are the Buckeyes’ receivers really third-best in the country?

NCAA Football: Illinois at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The Ohio State receivers room has lacked a superstar player since Michael Thomas left for the NFL, and hasn’t had an elite vertical-threat since Devin Smith.

The general perception among fans is that the Buckeyes receivers are all good, but lack a single dominant player and/or an elite, explosive receiver. Essentially, the criticism is that Ohio State receivers are all fairly interchangeable.

But that isn’t necessarily how the receivers are viewed outside of Columbus. In fact, Phil Steele ranks the Buckeyes receivers group as third-best in the country.

So how do they actually measure up? And what can we expect from them with Dwayne Haskins throwing to them?

OSU receivers stats

Receiver Ht, Wt 2018 Year 247 Targets Catches Yards Catch Rt Yds/Catch Yds/Tgt Target Rt Succ Rt Marg. Eff Marg. Exp
Receiver Ht, Wt 2018 Year 247 Targets Catches Yards Catch Rt Yds/Catch Yds/Tgt Target Rt Succ Rt Marg. Eff Marg. Exp
K.J. Hill 6'0, 198 Jr. 0.9304 74 56 549 75.7% 9.8 7.4 17.6% 54.1% 13.5% -0.08
Parris Campbell 6'1, 208 Sr. 0.9359 53 40 584 75.5% 14.6 11 12.6% 60.4% 19.2% 0.24
Binjimen Victor 6'4, 200 Jr. 0.95 45 23 349 51.1% 15.2 7.8 10.7% 48.9% 11.3% 0.26
Terry McLaurin 6'1, 204 Sr. 0.9051 44 29 436 65.9% 15 9.9 10.5% 56.8% 15.1% 0.41
Austin Mack 6'2, 215 Jr. 0.9614 38 24 343 63.2% 14.3 9 9.0% 57.9% 19.7% 0
Johnnie Dixon 5'11, 198 Sr. 0.9639 34 18 422 52.9% 23.4 12.4 8.1% 50.0% 8.4% 1.23
C.J. Saunders 5'11, 185 Sr. NR 20 17 221 85.0% 13 11.1 4.8% 70.0% 24.5% 0.36

These stats are from Bill’s season preview series (raw data available here).

Just from a quick look at these numbers, it’s obvious that the receivers aren’t interchangeable even if they do group into certain categories. Campbell and K.J. Hill both have excellent catch rates (75%), with Campbell averaging nearly five yards more per catch than Hill.

Dixon is the lower-efficiency, higher-explosiveness receiver, catching just 53% of his passes but averaging 23.4 yards per catch.

Those are the extremes — everyone else falls in between that range of efficiency/reliability and explosiveness.

The chart above takes the marginal efficiency and marginal explosiveness data for each receiver and plots it out — efficiency on the horizontal axis and explosiveness on the vertical.

These numbers aren’t opponent-adjusted, but they still provide some sense of how the receivers compare with each other and with the national average. A couple of things stand out to me:

  • Every receiver is more efficient than the national average, and all but Hill and Mack are more explosive, although most are clustered near the national average for marginal explosiveness.
  • The only exception to that marginal explosiveness rule is Dixon. In his first healthy season as a Buckeye, Dixon managed to lead the receivers in touchdowns, while ranking eighth in catches. He only had 18 catches all season, but eight of them — 44 percent — were for touchdowns, with an average of 23.4 yards per catch.

That’s not too far off from Devin Smith’s 28.2 yards per catch in 2014. Dixon really excelled as the middle option on mesh routes, finding the soft spot in the middle of the defense. Once he caught the ball, his elite straight-line speed allowed him to outrun defenders for long touchdowns.

  • A lot of hopes are riding on Austin Mack this season. He came to Ohio State as a pure receiver, as opposed to a converted running back or quarterback, and had more polish than most of the unit from his first day on campus. That’s evident in his receiving success rate, which is second-highest among the top-6 receivers. And, he’s also showcased an ability to make difficult catches under pressure, as in the Michigan and USC games last season.

However, he was still just fifth in targets last season, and had a below-average marginal explosiveness — which is something he’ll definitely look to work on if he wants to become Haskins’ top target in 2018. The building blocks for a breakout season are there though — high explosiveness is partly a function of giving yourself explosive opportunities through high efficiency, which he definitely has.

  • This chart essentially says that the Buckeyes two top options are likely to be Campbell and Mack (not to discount Saunders’ high efficiency, since he certainly made the most of his reps last season!) due to their high efficiency. Hill, Victor, and McLaurin haven’t differentiated themselves as much (although Hill has a high catch rate and McLaurin has a solid blend of attributes).

Dixon is a solid explosive option, but the team will likely be looking for more routes and a higher catch rate from him in 2018. Finally, the receivers room still needs a little more in the explosiveness department besides Dixon as the center field option on mesh routes.