Evaluating UW’s Receivers

Saturday’s frustrating Husky loss to Oregon was accompanied by as much grumbling in the stands as I can remember since the end of the Tyrone Willingham era. Some of those complaints were directed toward senior wideout Jermaine Kearse, who had just three catches for 24 yards. Never the most sure-handed receiver, Kearse has had trouble with drops lately. The game’s highest-profile drop came from sophomore Kevin Smith, who had a touchdown in his grasp midway through the fourth quarter only to see the ball go through his hands. Washington subsequently turned the ball over on downs and never threatened again.

In the wake of those issues at receiver, as well as the ascension of a healthy Kasen Williams to co-starter with James Johnson, I wanted to take a deeper look at the Huskies’ receivers by charting all passes thrown to them. Using play-by-play, I counted the number of incomplete passes targeted to each receiver. I also counted penalties drawn, which ought to be credited to the receiver just like a catch.

This gives us the opportunity to look at two statistics that allow us to evaluate receivers more accurately. The first is catch rate, a Football Outsiders invention that simply looks at the percentage of all passes in his direction a player catches. Naturally, players who run deeper routes are going to have lower catch rates, so it’s also important to consider yardage, which I’m measuring with yards per target — which, again, includes penalties.

First, let’s benchmark things with overall team statistics:

Player             Tgt  Cth  Yard    C%     Y/T
-----------------------------------------------
Total              256  186  2291   .727    8.8

Note that these differ from the Huskies’ team statistics in that interceptions are not included. So too are a handful of passes that were not listed as intended for any specific receiver (throwaways). Taking these away, Keith Price‘s accuracy is amazing. Nearly three-quarters of targeted passes have been completed for almost nine yards per target. Player stats should be taken in that context.

First up: wide receivers.

Player             Tgt  Cth  Yard    C%     Y/T
-----------------------------------------------
Kearse              53   34   467   .642    8.2
Aguilar             49   30   461   .612    9.4
Johnson             32   26   330   .813   10.3
Williams            26   20   236   .769    9.1
Smith               15   12   116   .800    7.7
Campbell             3    2     8   .667    2.7

It’s not surprising that the Huskies’ slot receivers have caught a higher percentage of passes thrown their way than starters Kearse and Devin Aguilar. What is interesting is that Johnson has still averaged the most yards per target of any receiver. Inside routes have been effective for Washington this season.

Of the starters, Aguilar actually has caught a lower percentage of the passes thrown his direction than Kearse. Aguilar has done more with his receptions than Kearse. That’s really the bigger difference from Kearse’s successful junior season — the big plays that were Kearse’s trademark are gone this year. He’s averaging just 12.3 yards per catch, down from 16.0 as a junior and 17.3 as a sophomore. In part, Jake Locker‘s ability to throw the deep ball was probably a better match for Kearse’s skills. However, Kearse has also let some opportunities to make long receptions get away. He has certainly been guilty of drops, which are not generally tracked. (The Stanford play-by-play was more detailed and did show one drop, by Kearse.)

To his credit, Kearse has been the only Husky receiver who has forced opponents to commit penalties. He’s drawn a pair of pass interference calls and two holding penalties. The only other penalty on an eligible receiver I found was a pass interference call against Michael Hartvigson in the end zone that went for three yards. (One technical note: those penalties are not shown as targets above because they shouldn’t count against catch rate, but they are factored into yards per target.)

What are we to make of Smith catching 80 percent of the passes thrown his way but averaging just 7.7 yards per target? I’d attribute that to the ineffectiveness of Washington’s bubble screens and other throws at the line of scrimmage. Williams also has a series of those catches for one or two yards, so his above-average yards per target might be more impressive than it looks.

Player             Tgt  Cth  Yard    C%     Y/T
-----------------------------------------------
Seferian-Jenkins    32   22   329   .688   10.3
Hartvigson           9    6    17   .667    1.7
Hudson               1    1     2  1.000    2.0

No advanced statistics are necessary to see how productive Austin Seferian-Jenkins has been this season. The Huskies aren’t really using Seferian-Jenkins in a traditional tight end role, as he’s averaging a healthy 15.0 yards per catch, second only to Aguilar on the team. In terms of yards per target, he’s tied with Johnson for second. Hartvigson has generally only been an option following play action in short-yardage situations.

Player             Tgt  Cth  Yard    C%     Y/T
-----------------------------------------------
Polk                24   24   280  1.000   11.7
Callier              5    4    23   .800    4.6
Tucker               2    2    12  1.000    6.0
Amosa                2    1     7   .500    3.5
Fogerson             2    1     3   .500    1.5
Sankey               1    1     0  1.000    0.0

In terms of yards per target, no Husky receiver has been better than running back Chris Polk. Granted, a 70-yard touchdown against California probably has something to do with that. (Other than that catch, Polk is averaging 9.1 yards per target.) Remarkably, Polk has caught every targeted pass in his direction. I think there was one pass he didn’t catch, but it was overturned by a roughing the passer penalty. The rest of the backs have gotten sparing use in the passing game, though it’s worth noting that Tim Tucker had more catches on Saturday than Washington’s other fullback, blocking specialist Jonathan Amosa, has all season. Not bad for a guy who is also third on the depth chart at middle linebacker.

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4 thoughts on “Evaluating UW’s Receivers

  1. Two-pronged question (of the solipsistic variety, as I’m a Stanford fan):
    1) Any sense in which the dropsies against Oregon were unusual?
    2) If so, were these drops what tennis would call “unforced” or “forced”?

  2. Very nice piece. I’ll cut Kearse a little more slack for the dropsies… I do feel like he is much improved this year and I’m not sure if that is due to the placement of passes (Locker did seem to be often throwing on a scramble or weird footing that lead to the receivers catching more balls behind and low, again foggy memory not statistically based thoughts here) or if the offense is just so much more improved this year that it seems better overall. Either way, I’m looking forward to your next post.

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