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OAYP: 2019 SEC Tight End Rankings

By Jim Johnson
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The new OAYP advanced metric ranks the SEC's returning tight ends.

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.

So far we’ve hit the SEC quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers. Today, we’re diving into the tight ends.

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


-Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri (1.94)

Albert Okwuegbunam is special. He has the ideal frame for a modern tight end with well above average straight line speed. However, there are a lot of big, athletic guys in the SEC. What separates him from the pack is his ability as a natural pass catcher. He’s a large target with an even greater catch radius, making Drew Lock look good the past couple of years thanks to an innate knack for reeling in those off target throws. Whether he lines up in the slot, in-line like a more traditional TE, or even outside, his leaping ability makes him a special sort of nightmare to defend in the red zone. His season was cut short by injury in 2018, but he nonetheless managed to earn finalist honors for the Mackey Award. There’s not a better returning tight end in college football.

Second Tier

-Jared Pinkney, Vanderbilt 0.88
-Cheyenne O'Grady, Arkansas 0.6

Pinkney might could have cracked the 1.0 OAYP mark if he was better blocker, but the rising senior is a matchup problem as a pass catcher. He’s not as nuanced a route runner or as athletic as Okwuegbunam, but like the Mizzou standout, he’s big, long, and strong. His production last year was as reliable as his hands are, posting at least three catches in all but two games, at least 40 yards in all but 4 games, and a touchdown in nearly half of Vanderbilt’s contests.

Cheyenne O’Grady didn’t play in either of Arkansas’ first two games in 2018, and didn’t register a reception until their fifth game of the season, against Texas A&M. Once he got going, though, he really got going. Pinkney is the only returning SEC tight end with more touchdowns last year than O’Grady’s six, and that was with three more appearances and 20 more receptions. Moreover, four of those six scores came against Alabama and LSU, with two apiece against those two dominant defenses.

Not as good as we thought?

-Charlie Woerner, Georgia (-0.23)

Woerner served in a limited capacity in 2018, backing up Isaac Nauta who has since departed for the NFL. He checks all the boxes athletically, but, albeit on a smaller sample size, has never matched production with the potential. As he steps into a larger role, it’s easy to expect that to be remedied, but that might be shortsighted. Nauta was arguably more physically gifted than Woerner, and was certainly a more highly touted prospect, but he never fully live up to the hype either. There are plenty of reasons for Georgia fans to be excited about what Woerner could be, but there’s also reason to question whether or not he ever actually gets there.

Potential Breakout Stars

-Octavius Cooley, Ole Miss (2.42)

Cooley, too, was a backup in 2018, playing behind Dawson Knox. However, he made the absolute most of his limited opportunities, averaging 21.5 yards per reception and scoring a touchdown on just eight catches. There’s also a nice history of recent tight end success at Ole Miss left behind by Knox and Evan Engram, both of whom would have posted >1.0 marginal OAYP scores in their final seasons, relative to this class. Like with all the Rebels we’ve covered in these position rankings, it’s yet to be seen what the offense will look like under Rich Rodriguez, but Cooley has his own history and that of his predecessors on his side.

Full Marginal OAYP Rankings for Qualifying Tight Ends

  1. Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri (1.94)
  2. Jared Pinkney, Vanderbilt (0.88)
  3. Cheyenne O'Grady, Arkansas (0.6)
  4. Kiel Pollard, South Carolina (0.01)
  5. Sal Cannella, Auburn (-0.12)
  6. Charlie Woerner, Georgia (-0.23)
  7. Dominick Wood-Anderson, Tennessee (-1.28)
  8. Farrod Green, Mississippi State (-1.76)
Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP