After I posted yesterday's receiver data dump and hinted that Danario Alexander had one of the best receiver seasons in recent memory, a friend of mine asked me a pretty logical follow-up: what is the best receiver season in recent memory? I figured it would make for a fun follow-up post. When you inevitably disagree with my conclusions, create your own list from the data, and we can compare and contrast.
To make sure I don't forget any names (like I did Dez Bryant on Twitter yesterday), I wanted to do this the old-fashioned, Cars.com, categorization-and-elimination way based on what I think makes for truly the best seasons. So let's go through my process of elimination. It is imperfect, but that goes without saying.
We started with 12,361 names.
1. Must have at least a 25 percent target rate.
I started with what I figured was probably a rather mundane requirement. The average target rate for a No. 1 receiver from 2005-11 was 24.9 percent, and you cannot really have a "great" receiver season if you aren't targeted at a really high level. This made perfect sense to me, and it knocked the list down from 12,361 names to 406. But it was enlightening who this eliminated.
Interesting Eliminations: 2007 Michael Crabtree, 2008 Michael Crabtree, 2008 Jordan Shipley, 2010 Titus Young, 2010 T.Y. Hilton, 2011 Patrick Edwards, and a whole bunch of Houston and Tulsa receivers.
It goes without saying that system affects stats. In 2008, Crabtree was targeted 146 times, but that accounted for only 22.8 percent of Tech's targets. That put him on the same level as Virginia's Kris Burd in 2010 or Washington State's Jared Karstetter in 2009. But since Tech passed so incredibly much, his stats were still rather ridiculous. (Though at only 8.0 yards per target, you could pretty easily make the case that he did not deserve the 2008 Biletnikoff Award. That was more of a lifetime achievement award than anything else, just as Justin Blackmon's was in 2011 to a certain degree.)
So yeah. Crabtree is out. Only ... I cannot stomach that. In 2007, his target rate was 24.7 percent. We'll round up and include him. We have to. I just started, and I'm already breaking my own rules.
2. Must be team's No. 1 target on Passing Downs.
If you are going to have one of the best receiver seasons, you have to be the go-to guy when your team needs a catch. This takes us from 407 names to 353. Not a huge drop.
3. Must have at least a 55 percent catch rate.
Teams employ their passing games in all sorts of different ways. One way the "Yards Per Target" measure is so effective is that it gives you different avenues to effectiveness. You can have a low per-catch rate with a high catch rate, or you could make up for a low catch rate with explosiveness. (It always comes back to the relationship between efficiency and explosiveness, doesn't it?)
Still, there's a floor. If your catch rate is too low, you are still hurting the team by gaining zero yards on every other target. A 55 percent catch rate is still pretty low, but it does take us down to 281 names.
4. Must average at least 8.0 yards per target on passing downs.
Back to passing downs, the "playmaker downs." You must not only be the No. 1 target on such downs, but you must be proficient. An eight-yard average is not amazing, but it does knock us down to 182 names.
Interesting Eliminations: 2006 Earl Bennett, 2009 and 2011 Nick Toon, 2011 T.Y. Hilton, 2010 Jonathan Baldwin and a host of mid-major receivers who were probably their team's only major threat (and who were probably therefore quadruple-covered on passing downs).
5. Must gain at least 1,000 receiving yards.
We are trying to move beyond raw stats as much as possible, but 1,000 yards is still a rather legitimate benchmark, especially considering that is not even 100 yards per game. How exactly did you have one of college football's best receiving seasons if you only gained 950 yards (after about 1980)? This takes us down to 109 names.
6. Must average at least 13.5 yards per catch (unless you have an obscene, i.e. >75%, catch rate).
Just like there is a floor to a good catch rate, you do need to provide some level of explosiveness, right? This only takes us to 84 names, but it does knock out some big ones, including one Biletnikoff winner.
7. Fine. No mid-majors (unless you gained at least 1,500 receiving yards).
I'm as equal-opportunity, mid-majors-are-people-too as they come, but at this point we have eliminated multiple Biletnikoff winners and a personal favorite (Maclin), and there are a lot of what we will call less-than-household names on the list who gained quite a few yards by taking advantage of the New Mexico States and Eastern Michigans of the world. This takes us all the way down to 57 names.
8. Must average at least 10.0 yards per target on standard downs.
Opponents generally have to prepare for both the run and pass on standard downs. If you averaged at least eight yards per target on passing downs, you should be able to average at least 10.0 on standard downs. Even if your quarterback is Reggie Ball. Now we're getting into some pretty interesting eliminations as we get down to 37 names.
9. Okay, must be the No. 1 overall target.
That should go without saying at this point, but I needed to get rid of two Rutgers No. 2's who were inexplicably sticking around. So now we're down to 34, which, over seven seasons, is a nice number.
Alright, so let's break this out by year at this point, ranked in order of my own preferences. (So, the first guy on each list would have gotten my Biletnikoff vote. And yes, I feel a bit weird about having eliminated Calvin Johnson. Maybe I should go back and create a Reggie Ball Rule. Or not. Still, remember this is about who had the greatest seasons, not who was the greatest player.)
- 2005: Mike Hass (Oregon State, Biletnikoff winner), Sidney Rice (South Carolina), Jason Hill (Washington State)
- 2006: Robert Meachem (Tennessee), Sammie Stroughter (Oregon State), D.J. Hall (Alabama), Harry Douglas (Louisville)
- 2007: Michael Crabtree (Texas Tech), Jordy Nelson (Kansas State), Devin Thomas (Michigan State), Adarius Bowman (Oklahoma State)
- 2008: Dez Bryant (Oklahoma State), Hakeem Nicks (North Carolina), Dezmon Briscoe (Kansas), Brandon Banks (Kansas State), Arrelious Benn (Illinois)
- 2009: Danario Alexander (Missouri), Golden Tate (Notre Dame), Demaryius Thomas (Georgia Tech), Jordan Shipley (Texas), Greg Salas (Hawaii)
- 2010: Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State), Alshon Jeffery (South Carolina), Julio Jones (Alabama), Greg Salas (Hawaii), Jeffrey Maehl (Oregon), Torrey Smith (Maryland)
- 2011: Kendall Wright (Baylor), Marquess Wilson (Washington State), Jordan White (Western Michigan), Chris Givens (Wake Forest), Dwight Jones (North Carolina), B.J. Cunningham (Michigan State), Nelson Rosario (UCLA)
We begin to pick up a little bit of dead weight with this list of requirements in 2011, but that makes sense in a way -- the college passing game becomes more successful and more explosive with each passing year. Anyway, from here, we can put together a pretty nice Top 20. From here, it was all based on my own judgment. The process of elimination did its job, but I'll take it from here. Again, let me know where you disagree (and let me know your own list in comments). Players in bold won the Biletnikoff. Dez Bryant, Danario Alexander and Kendall Wright, you should have quite the bone to pick with the Biletnikoff committee.
(And here's your reminder that Marquess Wilson will be playing in a Mike Leach offense this fall.)
|1||2008||Oklahoma State||Dez Bryant||126||87||1480||69.0%||11.7||40.9%|
|2||2010||Oklahoma State||Justin Blackmon||148||111||1782||75.0%||12.0||28.9%|
|4||2007||Texas Tech||Michael Crabtree||183||134||1962||73.2%||10.7||24.7%|
|6||2009||Notre Dame||Golden Tate||134||93||1496||69.4%||11.2||30.7%|
|8||2005||Oregon State||Mike Hass||140||90||1532||64.3%||10.9||32.9%|
|9||2010||South Carolina||Alshon Jeffery||132||88||1517||66.7%||11.5||36.1%|
|10||2009||Georgia Tech||Demaryius Thomas||80||45||1120||56.3%||14.0||53.0%|
|12||2007||Kansas State||Jordy Nelson||159||120||1586||75.5%||10.0||32.8%|
|13||2008||North Carolina||Hakeem Nicks||105||68||1222||64.8%||11.6||36.2%|
|15||2005||South Carolina||Sidney Rice||112||70||1135||62.5%||10.1||33.2%|
|17||2006||Oregon State||Sammie Stroughter||117||74||1293||63.2%||11.1||29.5%|
|18||2011||Washington State||Marquess Wilson||122||81||1383||66.4%||11.3||25.8%|
|19||2011||Western Michigan||Jordan White||203||140||1911||69.0%||9.4||38.4%|