Hot Reads: A Closer Look at Two Record-Setting Receiving Seasons
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Hot Reads: A Closer Look at Two Record-Setting Receiving Seasons

August 09, 2018

Nebraska's offense has questions to answer at most positions. The quarterback will be new, the running backs likely reshuffled and the offensive line, while fairly experienced, has much to prove. The known entity on that side of the ball is the wide receiver group. Stanley Morgan Jr. and JD Spielman were record-setting, all-conference receivers a year ago, Tyjon Lindsey is in the offense he always wanted to be in and there are some new additions who look pretty intriguing.

Based on the typical numbers, Nebraska's receivers had a pretty good year in what was a very bad year overall. But typical numbers (catches, yards, yards per catch) are only part of the story. Bill Connelly of SB Nation offered the opportunity for more of the story by making his wide receiver data available.

Those numbers include three stats I'm interested in: catch rate, marginal efficiency and marginal explosiveness.

Catch rate is easy enough to understand (rececptions/targets). Marginal efficiency and explosiveness are attempts to isolate a player's contribution to the play by subtracting the expected efficiency (success rate) and explosiveness (IsoPPP) from the actual numbers on every play involving a specific player. 

For example let's say Nebraska had a second-and-6 at its own 35 and the expected success rate for that play was 38 percent. The Huskers throw a 7-yard slant to Morgan, a successful play, and his success rate on that play is 100 percent. His marginal efficiency on that play was 62 percent. If Nebraska had thrown incomplete (0 percent success) it would've been -38 percent. Now do that for every play involving Morgan (or anyone else) in a season. Same for explosiveness.

Let's look at Nebraska's receivers two leading receivers using some of those measures. There were 109 receivers with at least 80 targets in 2017, including Morgan and Spielman. Morgan ranked 34th in yards, Spielman 63rd and those are some of their best rankings among this group.

The most notable for these two is catch rate. Morgan caught 56 percent of his targets (95th). Spielman was a little bit better at 56.7 percent (92). Among the high-target receivers in 2017, Nebraska's top two had two of the worst catch rates so if you've asked yourself at any point this offseason how Morgan and Spielman follow up last season's fireworks the answer is pretty clear: Catch the ball more often (or get more accurate targets, that's also a factor here). Morgan finished 14 yards away from becoming Nebraska's first 1,000-yard receiver and considering he averaged 16 yards per catch it makes that catch rate sting even more.

Things weren't much better in terms of efficiency. Morgan (9.2 percent) and Spielman (5.5 percent) both had positive marginal efficiency rates –– they increased Nebraska's success rate overall on plays they were involved in –– but those rates were below average (9.5 percent) for receivers with 80-plus targets. Morgan and Spielman were a little better on the explosiveness side. Spielman had a slightly lower success rate than Morgan but nearly matched him in marginal explosiveness, 0.33 to 0.34. Both numbers were above average (0.23) for high-target receivers.

That's a lot of numbers and strange terms, so how do you boil it all down? I'd put it like this: Both Morgan and Spielman had a bunch of catches for a bunch of yards a year ago. They were legitimate highlights for Nebraska last season, particularly in terms of their individual explosiveness. But there were yards (and plenty of catches) left on the table due to relatively low efficiency numbers, and that no doubt was influenced to some degree by Nebraska's lack of efficiency on offense as a whole. All of which is to say: There should be more out there for these two in 2018.

Below are the numbers for all of Nebraska's receivers in 2017 with at least 20 targets plus Tyjon Lindsey and Jack Stoll (as they'll be key pass-catchers this fall). I'm also including the numbers for UCF's top receiver, Tre'Quan Smith, so you can see what the top of the scale looks like for these measures. (National rank among high-target receivers in parentheses for those that qualify.)

Stanley Morgan Jr. 56.0 (95) 47.7 (67) 9.2 (56) 0.34 (31)
JD Spielman 56.7 (92) 46.4 (78) 5.5 (77) 0.33 (34)
De'Mornay Pierson-El 70.3 51.6 10.7 0.28
Tyjon Lindsey 57.1 33.3 -4.6 -0.45
Tyler Hoppes (TE) 60.7 44.6 5.0 0.01
Jack Stoll (TE) 72.7 54.5 12.0 0.14
Tre'Quan Smith (UCF WR) 68.6 (22) 60.5 (8) 18.0 (9) 0.91 (1)
High-Target WR Average 62.9 49.5 9.5 0.23


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