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A.J. Brown and Albert Okwuegbunam are terrifying, and other things advanced stats can tell us

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Stats and eyeballs agree: Brown is maybe the best returning receiver in the country.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Kentucky
A.J. Brown
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Each year I try to share comprehensive receiving stats, rushing stats, etc., but usually I get to it before now. Better late than never, right? I always have grand intentions for all I’m going to accomplish in the offseason, and then suddenly it’s August and there’s a bunch left on the to-do list.

Anyway, below is a boatload of 2017 college football receiving stats of the standard and advanced variety. Just in time for CFB fantasy football drafts, I guess. A couple of notes:

One of my primary goals for this offseason (tick tock) was to further explore the marginal efficiency and explosiveness data I discussed way back in January.

* 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.

* Success rate: a common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

** IsoPPP: the average equivalent point value of successful plays only.

The idea is to explore efficiency and explosiveness, using my two primary tools (success rate and IsoPPP) and applying adjustments based on expectation. You can’t rip off a 70-yard run from your opponent’s 20, so setting a moving bar can help us get closer to the truth. So, too, can evaluating successes and non-successes based on whether it was third-and-1 or third-and-19.

For receivers, this data can be used to give us a better idea of degree of difficulty. If you play in a run-first offense, and most of your targets come on third-and-9, your stats are going to suffer. But if you’re catching a lot of short, easy passes on first-and-10, your expected success rate is going to be higher. So maybe this evens the playing field a bit.

First things first: if you’re wanting to play with this data yourself — and I highly encourage you to do so — you can find a Google doc here. There are tabs for all targets, WRs only, TEs only, RBs only, and Other (basically, Tommy Stevens and defenders). If you play with it, make sure I see the results. Curious how other people might use this.

But on with the show.

Let’s start with the high-target WRs.

Below is a table with every wideout targeted at least 80 times last fall.

WRs with 80+ targets in 2017

Player Offense 2017 class Targets Catches Yards TDs Marginal Eff. Marginal Expl.
Player Offense 2017 class Targets Catches Yards TDs Marginal Eff. Marginal Expl.
Michael Gallup Colorado State SR 167 100 1413 7 12.4% 0.11
Steve Ishmael Syracuse SR 167 105 1347 7 8.3% 0.01
Trey Quinn SMU JR 155 114 1236 13 15.6% -0.04
Anthony Miller Memphis SR 148 96 1462 18 11.0% 0.50
Olamide Zaccheaus Virginia JR 140 85 895 5 4.6% 0.00
Ervin Philips Syracuse SR 138 89 904 4 9.1% -0.19
Cedrick Wilson Boise State SR 136 83 1531 7 10.4% 0.65
KeeSean Johnson Fresno State JR 135 77 1013 8 5.1% 0.20
Gary Jennings West Virginia JR 133 97 1096 1 13.1% 0.00
Deontay Burnett USC JR 131 86 1114 9 14.3% 0.08
DJ Moore Maryland JR 130 80 1033 8 5.5% 0.26
Allen Lazard Iowa State SR 130 71 941 10 3.4% 0.15
Courtland Sutton SMU JR 129 68 1085 12 4.8% 0.42
Anthony Johnson Buffalo JR 127 76 1356 14 7.9% 0.80
Simmie Cobbs Jr. Indiana JR 123 72 841 8 3.3% 0.09
Keke Coutee Texas Tech JR 121 93 1429 10 16.8% 0.59
Korey Robertson Southern Miss JR 120 79 1148 12 13.4% 0.30
N'Keal Harry Arizona State SO 120 82 1142 8 12.1% 0.29
Teddy Veal Louisiana Tech JR 120 74 950 7 9.3% 0.11
Ty Lee Middle Tennessee SO 119 79 955 5 7.5% 0.15
James Washington Oklahoma State SR 117 74 1544 13 16.3% 0.85
Jaleel Scott New Mexico State SR 117 76 1079 9 10.8% 0.22
Kelvin Harmon NC State SO 117 69 1017 4 10.9% 0.21
Penny Hart Georgia State SO 116 74 1121 8 13.3% 0.21
Denzel Mims Baylor SO 116 61 1087 8 4.0% 0.62
Justin Hall Ball State FR 116 78 801 3 4.6% -0.05
Dylan Cantrell Texas Tech SR 114 71 816 7 10.9% 0.01
Christian Kirk Texas A&M JR 113 71 919 10 8.6% 0.32
T.J. Rahming Duke JR 113 65 795 2 -0.9% 0.11
Steven Dunbar Houston SR 112 76 1070 3 10.9% 0.20
Andy Isabella Massachusetts JR 112 65 1020 10 9.0% 0.43
Alfonso Onunwor Idaho SR 112 67 904 8 8.2% 0.21
Vic Wharton III California JR 111 67 871 5 7.9% 0.08
Doni Dowling Virginia SR 110 53 728 5 -2.7% 0.18
Stanley Morgan Jr. Nebraska JR 109 61 986 10 9.2% 0.34
Jordan Lasley UCLA JR 108 69 1264 9 15.1% 0.62
Wyatt Demps Nevada SR 108 67 908 11 -0.2% 0.53
Diontae Johnson Toledo SO 107 77 1344 13 16.7% 0.80
KaΓÇÖRaun White West Virginia SR 107 64 1028 12 12.9% 0.40
Cam Phillips Virginia Tech SR 107 71 964 7 9.9% 0.18
Kahlil Lewis Cincinnati JR 107 64 724 7 0.6% 0.18
Trevon Brown East Carolina JR 105 60 1069 7 13.3% 0.41
Nacarius Fant Western Kentucky SR 105 74 704 4 12.1% -0.24
Justin Hobbs Tulsa JR 104 55 830 3 1.3% 0.36
Darren Carrington II Utah SR 103 73 1010 6 22.6% 0.15
Ryan Davis Auburn JR 103 87 884 5 19.1% 0.01
Sergio Bailey II Eastern Michigan SR 103 54 878 9 7.7% 0.34
Luke Timian Indiana JR 103 68 589 2 3.2% -0.28
David Sills V West Virginia JR 101 60 980 18 11.2% 0.53
Tyre Brady Marshall JR 101 62 942 8 10.5% 0.27
Linell Bonner Houston SR 101 80 900 5 17.0% 0.15
Tavares Martin Jr. Washington State JR 101 70 831 9 8.1% 0.20
Bryan Edwards South Carolina SO 101 64 793 5 2.4% 0.28
Marquez Valdes-Scantling South Florida SR 100 53 879 6 3.4% 0.61
Calvin Ridley Alabama JR 99 63 967 5 13.0% 0.38
Collin Johnson Texas SO 99 54 765 2 8.2% 0.01
Dante Pettis Washington SR 99 63 747 7 5.8% 0.26
Jaylen Smith Louisville JR 98 60 980 7 15.8% 0.26
Mark Chapman Central Michigan SR 98 59 875 5 7.9% 0.42
JD Spielman Nebraska FR 97 55 830 2 5.5% 0.33
McLane Mannix Nevada FR 97 57 778 6 -2.6% 0.41
Felton Davis III Michigan State JR 97 55 776 9 13.6% 0.03
J'Mon Moore Missouri SR 96 65 1082 10 17.3% 0.54
Jakobi Meyers NC State SO 95 63 727 5 14.8% -0.15
Bryce Bobo Colorado SR 95 61 680 5 13.7% -0.20
A.J. Brown Ole Miss SO 94 75 1252 11 21.6% 0.56
Steven Sims Jr. Kansas JR 94 59 840 6 6.8% 0.34
Jacob Sannon Idaho SR 94 59 608 1 6.7% -0.15
James Gardner Miami-OH JR 92 47 927 11 9.9% 0.51
Davon Grayson East Carolina SR 90 59 886 6 17.5% 0.24
Darren Andrews UCLA SR 90 60 773 10 16.7% 0.19
Jamarius Way South Alabama JR 90 47 762 3 5.2% 0.38
Deon Cain Clemson JR 90 58 734 6 10.7% 0.13
Isaiah Johnson-Mack Washington State SO 90 60 555 5 5.9% -0.17
Jhamon Ausbon Texas A&M FR 88 50 571 3 8.8% -0.24
Christian Blake Northern Illinois SR 88 41 442 4 -8.3% -0.03
Marcell Ateman Oklahoma State SR 87 59 1156 8 21.5% 0.63
Michael Lawrence North Texas SO 87 62 819 4 24.5% -0.06
Kanawai Noa California SO 87 56 788 4 16.1% 0.04
Kyle Williams Arizona State SO 87 66 763 7 11.1% 0.21
Scott Miller Bowling Green JR 87 63 722 4 17.8% -0.18
Tre'Quan Smith Central Florida JR 86 59 1171 13 18.0% 0.91
Braxton Berrios Miami-FL SR 86 55 679 9 11.8% 0.10
Thomas Owens Florida International SR 85 59 887 6 20.5% 0.21
Marcus Green UL-Monroe JR 85 55 847 5 12.3% 0.27
Elijah King Texas State SR 85 52 750 3 16.2% 0.04
Chris Murray Arkansas State SR 85 51 717 9 5.5% 0.38
Dylan Collie Hawaii JR 85 56 636 4 2.6% 0.13
Austin Conway Wyoming SO 85 61 549 3 -1.7% -0.04
Rico Bussey, Jr. North Texas SO 84 47 677 7 6.5% 0.21
Andre Wilson UAB JR 84 54 677 6 17.0% -0.05
Theo Howard UCLA SO 84 56 594 4 7.7% -0.05
Taivon Jacobs Maryland SR 84 47 553 5 -0.3% 0.15
Hergy Mayala Connecticut JR 83 43 615 7 1.9% 0.39
Ron'quavion Tarver Utah State JR 83 48 569 7 2.6% 0.20
Da'Mari Scott Fresno State SR 83 57 566 1 1.8% -0.02
Nick Easley Iowa JR 83 51 530 4 2.3% 0.00
Marquise Brown Oklahoma SO 82 57 1088 7 12.9% 0.91
DaeSean Hamilton Penn State SR 82 53 878 9 21.3% 0.30
Isaiah Wright Temple SO 82 46 668 4 4.9% 0.31
Willie Wright Florida Atlantic FR 82 56 657 6 3.0% 0.47
Shay Fields Colorado SR 81 46 623 4 3.6% 0.22
Jalen Guyton North Texas SO 80 49 775 9 12.7% 0.43
Tra'Von Chapman Akron SR 80 53 475 2 3.3% -0.28

First, some averages from this group. I would like to do a better job of establishing baselines for this stuff so you know at a glance what’s good and what’s not.

  • Catch Rate: 62.9%
  • Yards Per Catch: 13.7
  • Yards Per Target: 8.6
  • Success Rate: 49.5%
  • Marginal Efficiency: +9.5%
  • Marginal Explosiveness: +0.23 points per successful play

Based purely on this sample of 104 receivers, here are the 24 players who hit at least the 50th percentile in both marginal efficiency and marginal explosiveness. Players in bold return in 2018:

  • A.J. Brown (Ole Miss)
  • Anthony Miller (Memphis)
  • Calvin Ridley (Alabama)
  • Cedrick Wilson (Boise State)
  • DaeSean Hamilton (Penn State)
  • David Sills V (WVU)
  • Davon Grayson (ECU)
  • Diontae Johnson (Toledo)
  • J’Mon Moore (Missouri)
  • Jalen Guyton (North Texas)
  • James Gardner (Miami (OH))
  • James Washington (Oklahoma State)
  • Jaylen Smith (Louisville)
  • Jordan Lasley (UCLA)
  • Ka’Raun White (WVU)
  • Keke Coutee (Texas Tech)
  • Korey Robertson (Southern Miss)
  • Marcell Ateman (Oklahoma State)
  • Marcus Green (ULM)
  • Marquise Brown (Oklahoma)
  • N’Keal Harry (Arizona State)
  • Tre’Quan Smith (UCF)
  • Trevon Brown (ECU)
  • Tyre Brady (Marshall)

Now let’s raise the bar a bit: Here are the players who hit the 80th percentile in both:

  • A.J. Brown (Ole Miss)
  • Cedrick Wilson (Boise State)
  • Diontae Johnson (Toledo)
  • J’Mon Moore (Missouri)
  • James Washington (Oklahoma State)
  • Jordan Lasley (UCLA)
  • Keke Coutee (Texas Tech)
  • Marcell Ateman (Oklahoma State)
  • Tre’Quan Smith (UCF)

Of last year’s high-usage WRs, Brown and Johnson are your two most well-rounded returnees. Most of Toledo’s receiving corps is back, actually, so whoever replaces Logan Woodside’s got an embarrassment of riches at his disposal.

NCAA Football: Toledo at Miami
Diontae Johnson
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

I was curious about the next batch down, too, the players targeted between 40 and 79 times. Who were the standouts in this group? I figure that might be a way of finding out this year’s best breakout candidates.

Among this large group (243 WRs), eight players were in the 80th percentile of both marginal efficiency (which I’ll abbreviate with mEff below) and marginal explosiveness (mExpl). Seven of them return in 2018. (Again, returnees in bold.)

  • CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma (814 yards, +20.4% mEff, +0.67 mExpl)
  • Cody Thompson, Toledo (537 yards, +23.7% mEff, +0.74 mExpl)
  • Dredrick Snelson, UCF (695 yards, +17.8% mEff, +0.52 mExpl)
  • James Proche, SMU (816 yards, +18.4% mEff, +0.84 mExpl)
  • R.J. Turner, ULM (686 yards, +17.2% mEff, +0.49 mExpl)
  • Terry Godwin, Georgia (711 yards, +19.5% mEff, +0.53 mExpl)
  • Turner Smiley, North Texas (623 yards, +16.2% mEff, +0.59 mExpl)
  • Will Hastings, Auburn (525 yards, +20.3% mEff, +0.71 mExpl)

Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and CeeDee Lamb. One batch of Oklahoma skill corps stars leaves, and another one takes its place.

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Oklahoma vs Georgia
CeeDee Lamb
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Alright, let’s move to tight ends.

Here are the 66 tight ends with at least 30 targets in 2017.

TEs with 30+ targets in 2017

Player Offense 2017 Class Targets Catches Yards TDs Marginal Eff. Marginal Expl.
Player Offense 2017 Class Targets Catches Yards TDs Marginal Eff. Marginal Expl.
Adam Breneman Massachusetts SR 92 64 764 4 14.9% -0.06
Mark Andrews Oklahoma JR 91 65 1006 8 20.1% 0.29
Ryan Yurachek Marshall SR 84 54 490 10 5.6% -0.15
Matt Bushman BYU FR 78 49 520 3 9.4% -0.30
Mike Gesicki Penn State SR 76 57 563 9 7.6% 0.14
Troy Fumagalli Wisconsin SR 73 46 547 4 11.0% -0.06
Deon Yelder Western Kentucky SR 69 52 688 7 26.7% 0.03
Tommy Sweeney Boston College JR 67 36 512 4 4.7% 0.20
Blake Mack Arkansas State SR 65 48 618 7 17.7% 0.17
Tyler Conklin Central Michigan SR 65 35 504 5 5.2% 0.28
Hayden Hurst South Carolina JR 63 44 559 2 9.0% 0.11
Dax Raymond Utah State SO 60 41 453 1 15.3% -0.21
Ben Johnson Kansas SR 60 30 363 1 -5.8% 0.28
Noah Fant Iowa SO 59 30 494 11 1.2% 0.74
Cam Serigne Wake Forest SR 58 44 556 9 26.9% 0.09
Melvin Vaughn Old Dominion SR 58 33 354 4 -4.6% 0.30
Christopher Herndon IV Miami-FL SR 56 40 477 4 17.0% 0.05
Tyler Hoppes Nebraska SR 56 34 377 3 5.0% 0.01
Josh Oliver San Jose State JR 56 35 296 1 2.8% -0.39
Ryan Smith Miami-OH SR 55 35 454 4 16.2% 0.11
Noah Togiai Oregon State JR 54 34 461 2 14.0% 0.08
Donnie Ernsberger Western Michigan SR 51 34 394 4 19.0% -0.05
Charles Standberry Louisville SR 51 29 306 4 5.0% -0.07
Jake Roh Boise State SR 50 39 410 9 21.7% -0.01
Jerome Washington Rutgers JR 50 28 282 1 -1.3% -0.18
Brycen Hopkins Purdue SO 49 25 349 3 -4.1% 0.37
Caleb Wilson UCLA SO 48 38 490 1 30.8% -0.05
Jordan Akins Central Florida SR 47 32 515 4 19.6% 0.37
Sean McKeon Michigan SO 46 31 301 3 3.7% -0.40
Louis Dorsey Illinois FR 45 22 395 3 -1.4% 0.56
Jordan Thomas Mississippi State SR 43 22 263 3 7.5% -0.23
Albert Okwuegbunam Missouri FR 42 29 415 11 23.5% 0.26
Marcus Baugh Ohio State SR 42 28 304 5 7.7% 0.12
Kaden Smith Stanford SO 41 23 414 5 13.4% 0.56
Shane Wimann Northern Illinois SR 41 30 283 7 6.5% 0.04
Brandon Fritts North Carolina JR 41 25 177 4 -0.5% -0.20
Harrison Bryant Florida Atlantic SO 40 32 408 5 23.8% 0.25
Ravian Pierce Syracuse JR 40 32 311 4 8.4% 0.06
Jared Pinkney Vanderbilt SO 40 22 279 3 2.1% 0.49
Tyler Petite USC JR 39 23 307 3 4.1% 0.16
Evan Butts Virginia JR 39 32 266 2 8.2% -0.17
Alizé Mack Notre Dame JR 39 19 166 1 -5.5% -0.10
Nolan Givan Ball State FR 39 25 159 4 -1.3% -0.40
T.J. Hockenson Iowa FR 38 27 371 3 27.1% 0.02
Kelvin Smith North Texas SO 38 27 264 0 15.2% -0.27
Ian Thomas Indiana SR 37 25 376 5 11.7% 0.46
Dalton Fackrell Colorado State SR 37 23 313 6 16.6% 0.11
Foster Moreau LSU JR 37 24 278 3 6.9% 0.25
Ethan Wolf Tennessee SR 37 24 246 3 8.3% 0.10
Matt Sokol Michigan State JR 37 21 222 1 3.2% -0.19
Cole Herdman Purdue JR 36 20 331 3 9.7% 0.51
Dalton Schultz Stanford SR 36 22 212 3 3.3% -0.28
Pharoah McKever Florida International SR 35 27 301 3 16.8% -0.01
Tyler Mabry Buffalo SO 35 24 242 1 6.2% -0.13
Tyler Cogswell Cincinnati SR 35 23 149 2 2.0% -0.41
David Lucero UTEP JR 35 17 129 1 -8.0% -0.49
Ryan Izzo Florida State JR 34 19 306 3 13.5% 0.22
Gabe Schrade Texas State SR 34 20 287 2 5.1% 0.28
Austin Roberts UCLA JR 34 19 220 2 0.1% 0.35
Dawson Knox Ole Miss SO 33 24 321 0 14.9% 0.02
Cheyenne OΓÇÖGrady Arkansas SO 33 21 143 2 1.5% -0.28
Ari Werts Georgia State JR 32 22 275 0 5.1% 0.18
Jared Rice Fresno State SO 31 22 388 2 24.2% 0.64
Daniel Helm Duke JR 31 22 261 2 23.0% -0.06
Bryce Wolma Arizona FR 31 28 241 2 20.0% -0.18
Joey Magnifico Memphis SO 30 21 280 3 20.7% 0.10

Same test. Here are the 14 tight ends who were in the 50th percentile in both. Returnees in bold, and the three 80th-and-80th guys have asterisks.

  • Albert Okwuegbunam, Mizzou
  • Blake Mack, Arkansas State
  • Cam Serigne, Wake Forest
  • Dalton Fackrell, Colorado State
  • Harrison Bryant, FAU
  • Ian Thomas, Indiana
  • Jared Rice, Fresno State*
  • Joey Magnifico, Memphis
  • Jordan Akins, UCF*
  • Kaden Smith, Stanford
  • Mark Andrews, Oklahoma*
  • Noah Togiai, Oregon State
  • Ryan Izzo, FSU
  • Ryan Smith, Miami (Ohio)

Get to know the name. It’s pronounced Oh-koo-WAY-boo-nam.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Vanderbilt
Albert Okwuegbunam
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports