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OAYP: 2019 SEC Receiver Rankings

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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The new OAYP advanced metric ranks the SEC's returning receivers.

Earlier in the offseason I released the 2018 OAYP rankings as part of the debut of a new advanced metric to evaluate college football teams. Last season’s scores will obviously factor into the eventual 2019 preseason rankings, but those alone are only reflective, not predictive.

In order to make the aforementioned OAYP metric predictive, we’re factoring in individual player OAYP scores for projected starters and key contributors. Those numbers are a sort of spiritual descendant of adjusted yards per attempt, the quarterback metric first introduced in the book The Hidden Game of Football by Bob Carroll, Pete Palmer, and John Thorn, and Pro Football Reference founder Doug Drinen’s ‘approximate value’ measure.

The basic premise is to cross the efficiency measure of the former, but across all positions, with the value principles of the latter -- hopefully as a way of more accurately depicting a given team’s returning production. Returning good players is more valuable than returning only average or subpar players, and not all production is created equal, so this should ideally prove to be more predictive than simply looking at the raw number of returning starters or the percentages of returning production.

Over the coming weeks I’ll be diving into those individual OAYP scores for some of the top returning qualifying players in the SEC at each position, as well as some potential breakout stars that posted big OAYP numbers, but on too small a sample size to qualify.

Now, to separate the truly dominant players, rather than just using the OAYP scores, we’ll be looking at the scores relative to their positional averages. For the time being, we only have the SEC to look at, but those marginal ratings will eventually reflect their value relative to the entire country -- at least among qualifying returnees. That way, because there is some mild inequity in scoring from one position to the next, those disparities are wholly mitigated. Sort of like WAR in baseball, marginal OAYP tells us how far above or below a player is their positional average.

We looked at the SEC quarterbacks and running backs last week. Today, we’re diving into the receivers.

We’ll tier them into ‘superstars’ (marginal OAYP >1), ‘second tier’ (marginal OAYP between 0.5 and 1), ‘not as good as we thought?’, and potential breakout stars (players that didn’t get enough reps to qualify, but posted high OAYP scores on a smaller sample size).

*Marginal OAYP in parentheses

Superstars

-Jerry Jeudy, Alabama (1.98)
-Jaylen Waddle, Alabama (1.59)
-Henry Ruggs, Alabama (1.31)

Tua Tagovailoa is the best quarterback in college football. He returns the best receiving corps in college football. That doesn’t seem fair. Jerry Jeudy won the Biletnikoff Award, given annually to college football’s best receiver, and yet, at least according to Pro Football Focus, he wasn’t even the best pass catcher on his own team. That distinction went to freshman Jaylen Waddle who posted the fourth highest WR grade in the country. Oh yeah, and then there’s Henry Ruggs, maybe the only player in the country that’s faster than Waddle. Not to mention…

Second Tier

-Devonta Smith, Alabama (0.91)
-Bryan Edwards, South Carolina (0.54)

Devonta Smith was Tagovailoa’s top target during the College Football Playoff, and all four of those weapons rank in the top eight among returning SEC pass catchers in yards per reception and touchdowns.

Bryan Edwards is not the athlete that Deebo Samuel is, but as the latter provided enough excitement for the both of them, Edwards was a bastion of consistency and even proved to be a viable WR1 when Samuel was injured in 2017. He has 12 receiving scores and over 1,600 yards the last two years, and proved more able to stretch defenses downfield a season ago. Big, long, and strong, Edwards is a jump ball warrior and should have his best season yet in 2019, especially if Jake Bentley is a little steadier behind center.

Not as good as we thought?

-Kalija Lipscomb, Vanderbilt -1.05
-Lynn Bowden, Kentucky -1.14

Both Lipscomb and Bowden were All-SEC selections in 2018, Lipscomb to the second team by the media and Bowden to the second team by the coaches.

In fairness, Bowden was picked as an all-purpose/returner, but, nevertheless, his production does not match his perception. An elite punt returner to be sure, his numbers from scrimmage, both as a rusher and receiver, are pretty pedestrian. He did have some monster performances, but no-shows like he had against Mississippi State and South Carolina leave me wanting more.

Meanwhile, though Lipscomb’s raw numbers are impressive, he was force fed the ball, and inefficient in the way in which he accumulated those stats. Despite leading the league with 87 receptions, he failed to hit 1,000 yard mark, and ranked 36th among 42 qualifying SEC receivers last year in yards per reception.

Potential Breakout Stars

-Kam Scott, Missouri 4.14
-Stephen Guidry, Mississippi State 2.72
-Tyler Simmons, Georgia 2.36
-Seth Williams, Auburn 2.22
-Jeremiah Holloman, Georgia 1.49
-Josh Palmer, Tennessee 1.18

Scott, Guidry, and Simmons’ numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. Impressive as they may be, none of them had even 20 touches, though Guidry was just shy of that mark.

However, we saw enough of the other three to acknowledge that, though they probably aren’t as good as those OAYP scores, big seasons could be in the cards for each one. Williams is in an interesting spot because of Auburn’s quarterback situation, but Holloman did a nice job stepping into that Javon Wims-esque deep threat role for Georgia last year, while Palmer emerged as an upper echelon big play threat, gaining at least 20 yards on just shy of 40% of his receptions.

Full Marginal OAYP Rankings for Qualifying WR’s

  1. Jerry Jeudy, Alabama (1.98)
  2. Jaylen Waddle, Alabama (1.59)
  3. Henry Ruggs, Alabama (1.31)
  4. Devonta Smith, Alabama (0.91)
  5. Bryan Edwards, South Carolina (0.54)
  6. Van Jefferson, Florida (0.51)
  7. Justin Jefferson, LSU (0.38)
  8. Marquez Callaway, Tennessee (0.32)
  9. Shi Smith, South Carolina (0.23)
  10. Josh Hammond, Florida (0.22)
  11. Jauan Jennings, Tennessee (0.2)
  12. Jalen Knox, Missouri (0.13)
  13. Quartney Davis, Texas A&M (-0.12)
  14. Camron Buckley, Texas A&M (-0.34)
  15. Anthony Schwartz, Auburn (-0.36)
  16. Johnathan Johnson, Missouri (-0.46)
  17. CJ Bolar, Vanderbilt (-0.48)
  18. Jhamon Ausbon, Texas A&M (-0.97)
  19. Eli Stove (‘17), Auburn (-1.04)
  20. Kalija Lipscomb, Vanderbilt (-1.05)
  21. Lynn Bowden, Kentucky (-1.14)
  22. Elijah Moore, Ole Miss (-1.15)
  23. Kadarius Toney, Florida (-1.18)
Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP