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Thomas Duarte, Samajie Grant, other Pac-12ers lead WR breakout candidates

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Teasing out explosiveness vs. efficiency in receiving stats.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

As I did for running back stats last week, I thought it would be interesting to look at the relationship between explosiveness and efficiency in receiving stats. Since I lean on catch rate and yards per catch for a lot of the receiver analysis I use, I'll stick with those here. They're a nice combination -- how frequently you catch the ball and what you do with the catches you make.

I wanted a big sample, so here is the relationship between these two measures for all FBS players with at least 25 targets last year. That's a sample of 714 players.

There's a decent correlation here. Again, complete charting data -- which would tell you the distance of the pass, not the distance of the play -- would be wonderful, but this does tell us that there's a relationship between your catch rate and your yards per catch.

There are quite a few players who appear to overachieve a decent amount in both categories. Here's a sortable list of 2014 players with at least a) 25 targets, b) a 60 percent catch rate, and c) 15 yards per catch. There are 61 in all. Those with at least 75 targets are in bold.

Team Player Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate
Yds/
Catch
Yds/
Target
Miami Clive Walford 55 44 676 80.0% 15.4 12.3
Western Michigan Darius Phillips 40 32 479 80.0% 15.0 12.0
Western Kentucky Taywan Taylor 57 45 767 78.9% 17.0 13.5
San Jose State Andrew Vollert 28 22 335 78.6% 15.2 12.0
Oregon Pharaoh Brown 33 25 420 75.8% 16.8 12.7
UCLA Thomas Duarte 37 28 540 75.7% 19.3 14.6
Arizona Samajie Grant 60 45 718 75.0% 16.0 12.0
California Darius Powe 27 20 328 74.1% 16.4 12.1
Oregon Darren Carrington 50 37 704 74.0% 19.0 14.1
Colorado State Rashard Higgins 131 96 1750 73.3% 18.2 13.4
Texas A&M Edward Pope 41 30 454 73.2% 15.1 11.1
Boise State Thomas Sperbeck 70 51 883 72.9% 17.3 12.6
Baylor Corey Coleman 88 64 1119 72.7% 17.5 12.7
Texas Tech Devin Lauderdale 43 31 589 72.1% 19.0 13.7
TCU Deante' Gray 50 36 582 72.0% 16.2 11.6
Buffalo Marcus McGill 31 22 343 71.0% 15.6 11.1
Boise State Matt Miller 40 28 461 70.0% 16.5 11.5
Mississippi State Fred Ross 43 30 489 69.8% 16.3 11.4
Texas A&M Josh Reynolds 78 54 885 69.2% 16.4 11.3
Ohio State Devin Smith 48 33 931 68.8% 28.2 19.4
South Carolina Pharoh Cooper 102 70 1152 68.6% 16.5 11.3
Vanderbilt Davis Dudchock 25 17 261 68.0% 15.4 10.4
Georgia Chris Conley 53 36 657 67.9% 18.3 12.4
Western Michigan Corey Davis 115 78 1408 67.8% 18.1 12.2
Syracuse Steve Ishmael 40 27 415 67.5% 15.4 10.4
Old Dominion Antonio Vaughan 94 63 1019 67.0% 16.2 10.8
Baylor Jay Lee 63 42 653 66.7% 15.5 10.4
Auburn D'haquille Williams 68 45 730 66.2% 16.2 10.7
Washington State Dom Williams 65 43 656 66.2% 15.3 10.1
Ole Miss Vince Sanders 53 35 594 66.0% 17.0 11.2
Virginia Darius Jennings 41 27 521 65.9% 19.3 12.7
Rice Jordan Taylor 82 54 842 65.9% 15.6 10.3
Nebraska Jordan Westerkamp 67 44 747 65.7% 17.0 11.1
Texas John Harris 104 68 1051 65.4% 15.5 10.1
Alabama O.J. Howard 26 17 260 65.4% 15.3 10.0
Oregon Devon Allen 65 42 712 64.6% 17.0 11.0
Appalachian State Montez McGuire 39 25 386 64.1% 15.4 9.9
Houston Markeith Ambles 50 32 539 64.0% 16.8 10.8
Western Kentucky Mitchell Henry 50 32 489 64.0% 15.3 9.8
UNLV Devonte Boyd 100 64 973 64.0% 15.2 9.7
Pittsburgh Tyler Boyd 122 78 1261 63.9% 16.2 10.3
Oklahoma Sterling Shepard 80 51 970 63.8% 19.0 12.1
Colorado State Joe Hansley 55 35 540 63.6% 15.4 9.8
Idaho Joshua McCain 120 76 1162 63.3% 15.3 9.7
Virginia Miles Gooch 38 24 371 63.2% 15.5 9.8
Stanford Devon Cajuste 54 34 557 63.0% 16.4 10.3
Massachusetts Tajae Sharpe 135 85 1281 63.0% 15.1 9.5
Arkansas State Dijon Paschal 61 38 665 62.3% 17.5 10.9
Colorado State Charles Lovett 45 28 490 62.2% 17.5 10.9
Michigan State Keith Mumphery 42 26 495 61.9% 19.0 11.8
Oklahoma State Brandon Sheperd 63 39 737 61.9% 18.9 11.7
Michigan State Tony Lippett 105 65 1198 61.9% 18.4 11.4
Louisiana Tech Carlos Henderson 47 29 569 61.7% 19.6 12.1
Baylor KD Cannon 94 58 1030 61.7% 17.8 11.0
California Trevor Davis 39 24 399 61.5% 16.6 10.2
Louisville DeVante Parker 70 43 855 61.4% 19.9 12.2
Clemson Mike Williams 93 57 1030 61.3% 18.1 11.1
Ole Miss Evan Engram 62 38 644 61.3% 16.9 10.4
Purdue Danny Anthrop 62 38 616 61.3% 16.2 9.9
Central Michigan Titus Davis 98 60 965 61.2% 16.1 9.8
Kentucky Javess Blue 48 29 525 60.4% 18.1 10.9

I default sorted in order of catch rate here, and that led me to quickly notice something: there are quite a few interesting returning Pac-12 receivers near the top of the list -- 5 of the top 9 (again, when sorted by catch rate), in fact: Oregon's Pharaoh Brown (a tight end) and Darren Carrington, UCLA's Thomas Duarte, Arizona's Samajie Grant, and Cal's Darius Powe. That's intriguing. Of that fivesome, only Grant was targeted more than 50 times, but thanks to graduation/attrition, all five could play larger roles this year. And Grant and Powe even have the benefit of a returning, experienced quarterback.

Out of curiosity, I wanted to take this same look at standard downs and passing downs. Here's the same sample of players (those with 25+ targets, regardless of down) with their target rate and per-catch averages on only standard downs targets.

Obviously by stripping down the sample size a bit, you're opening yourself up to a wider array of results. The correlation here isn't amazing, but it's better than in the next chart:

There's almost no correlation between catch rate and yards per catch on passing downs. I've got a theory for why this is, and you can tell me how woefully incorrect I am in comments: for a long time now, I've considered standard downs as game plan downs and passing downs as play-maker downs. On standard downs, the offense has the advantage and can attack the defense in a number of different ways. On passing downs, your options are more limited, and you could be more prone to leaning on your play-makers.

Passing downs would introduce more of a quality variable then. If there were a strong relationship between these two measures, that would suggest that players follow a script in a way, and you take your pick -- high catch rates or big plays. But when there's almost no correlation, that suggests that player quality matters. Good players are capable of high catch rates and huge yards per play; bad players ... aren't.

The lack of correlation on passing downs, combined with the decent overall correlation, in some way vindicates my line of thinking. Well ... it does to me, anyway. I could be missing something.

Anyway, the following 15 players averaged at least 15 yards per catch on passing downs with at least a 70 percent catch rate. It's an interesting mix of known play-makers (Duke Williams, Devin Smith) and breakout candidates (the Pac-12ers mentioned above, plus guys like Edward Pope, Fred Brown, Mike Williams, and, if he hasn't already broken out, Pharoh Cooper).

  • Deante' Gray (TCU): 14 targets, 25.6 yards per catch, 93% catch rate
  • Darius Powe (Cal): 11 targets, 15.6 yards per catch, 82% catch rate
  • Darius Jennings (Virginia): 21 targets, 21.1 yards per catch, 81% catch rate
  • Devin Lauderdale (Texas Tech): 20 targets, 18.8 yards per catch, 80% catch rate
  • Eric Judge (SDSU): 14 targets, 20.3 yards per catch, 79% catch rate
  • Rashard Higgins (Colorado State): 45 targets, 17.6 yards per catch, 78% catch rate
  • Devin Smith (Ohio State): 16 targets, 32.2 yards per catch, 75% catch rate
  • Darius Phillips (WMU): 20 targets, 18.5 yards per catch, 75% catch rate
  • Pharoh Cooper (South Carolina): 43 targets, 20.6 yards per catch, 74% catch rate
  • Fred Brown (Mississippi State): 11 targets, 16.1 yards per catch, 73% catch rate
  • Ezell Ruffin (SDSU): 14 targets, 20.4 yards per catch, 71% catch rate
  • John Ross (Washington): 14 targets, 18.6 yards per catch, 71% catch rate
  • Pharaoh Brown (Oregon): 7 targets, 17.2 yards per catch, 71% catch rate
  • Edward Pope (Texas A&M): 17 targets, 19.3 yards per catch, 71% catch rate
  • Duke Williams (Auburn): 38 targets, 17.0 yards per catch, 68% catch rate
  • Hunter Jarmon (Oregon State): 21 targets, 18.9 yards per catch, 67% catch rate
  • Chris Moore (Cincinnati): 24 targets, 18.7 yards per catch, 67% catch rate
  • C.J. Prosise (Notre Dame): 24 targets, 18.6 yards per catch. 67% catch rate
  • Darren Carrington (Oregon): 15 targets, 17.6 yards per catch, 67% catch rate
  • Marcus McGill (Buffalo): 12 targets, 15.5 yards per catch, 67% catch rate
  • Samajie Grant (Arizona): 26 targets, 15.1 yards per catch, 65% catch rate
  • Mike Williams (Clemson): 37 targets, 19.0 yards per catch, 65% catch rate
  • Jean Sifrin (UMass): 34 targets, 15.4 yards per catch, 65% catch rate
  • Thomas Sperbeck (Boise State): 31 targets, 16.5 yards per catch, 65% catch rate

Cooper's a bad man. More will probably figure that out this season. Meanwhile, C.J. Prosise was a passing downs dynamo last year ... and is fighting for reps at running back this year. Unique.