This is the seventh of a longer POV series looking at the individual positions which need to be re-filled in 2017 and whether we will meet the PRODUCTION we had in those positions in ’16. We will not factor in true freshman at this point.
Wide Receiver will be a position of strength for us in this coming season almost surely. I say that because as we wrote about the QB position early in this series I think we’ll have a downgrade there – so the ripple effect may impact the overall production of our WR corps for ’17.
To start let’s look at who departed Pitt over the off-season. rsSR Dontez Ford and rsJR Zach Challingsworth. Well, that was pretty simple wasn’t it?
Of course our main WR coming back is the exciting and inconsistent – which is part of the excitement because we hold our breath hoping he’ll come down with the ball – rsSR Jester Weah.
Weah is a great example of kids who are just average in their recruiting rating (3*, 5.5) and don’t burst right out of the gate in college… but learn the new game and flourish in their upperclassmen years. And yes, that is what a good player will do.
Great players usually do make an impact earlier and Weah may have also if he hadn’t been stuck behind Tyler Boyd and Dontez Ford for his first few years. But for now he’s pretty darn good and may just be great this season.
Weah has had the catching yips and was publicly open and refreshingly honest about that which I like him even more for. He has great downfield speed and good moves – but his hands used to let him down when it came to gameday. More on that later…
Here is our roster of returning WRs and we hope, and there probably are, some good ones in the pipeline:
|5||Tre Tipton||6-0/190||WR||RS SO|
|11||Ruben Flowers III||6-3/200||WR||RS FR|
|46||Michael Vardzel||5-10/180||WR||RS FR|
|48||Kellen McAlone||6-2/205||WR||RS JR|
|82||Rafael Araujo-Lopes||5-9/185||WR||RS JR|
|85||Jester Weah||6-3/210||WR||RS SR|
You can see that Ffrench is now officially both a WR and a DB (thank god).
But let’s not disparage old Dontez Ford, after all he was hurt for a large part of the season and produced well enough as our 2nd leading WR in his eight games played; he had 17 receptions for 288 yards and 2 TDs with a 16.9 ypc average.
His absence will allow our younger guys to step into his Pitt cleats, most probably 6’0″ (pushing it!) rsSO Tre Tipton (12 for 142, 11.8 ypc & 1 TD) and SO Aaron Mathews, who is a tall drink of 3.2 beer at 6’4″. He was 6 for 51 at 8.5 ypc.
Tipton is the speedier of the two players but got less playing time last season; nine games played with one start, although he did more with that than Mathews did – at least as a WR. Mathews was very good as the Gunner on our coverage teams so that is where he got his 12 starts last year. But I feel Mathews upside may be the best of all the WRs.
Then again check out Tipton’s ‘success rate‘ in the chart below – it was an excellent 60% which means when he touched the ball he was very productive. So maybe he’ll be the secondary receiver. Either way those two players are going to see a lot of playing time along with Weah.
That’s who I think will split time with ATH Quadree Henderson who was our all-around offensive weapon in running, catching (not so much) and returns. I have a feeling that our new OC Watson will keep Henderson in this spread out & multiple role and let the other, more adept WRs stay on the receiving end of most of Browne’s passes.
After all – Henderson was #11 nationally in All-Purpose yardage and as such is a great offensive tool you can surprise defenses with. The thing with Henderson though is that he also was used as a short yardage receiver only when wrapped into the passing game and when he did catch the ball he fumbled a few times.
Below is a great chart from footballstudyhall.com showing how ‘successful’ our WRs were last season. Below is the definition of that next to right hand column titled “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.
Notice Tipton’s good hands numbers – the ability to catch 12 passes out of 15 attempts will make up for a lot of inaccurate throws by our QBs – a valuable skill to have.
Sad to say our other younger WRs didn’t fare all that well in the completion department either but that may be accounted for by the lack of steady and constant playing time. That will change this season.
Interestingly enough our primary WR Weah was really not overly ‘successful’ in some ways when it comes to his overall performance as a JR. His yardage and average per reception was outstanding at 24.2 ypc and 10 TDs (!!) – way better than Boyd’s 2015 season of 10.2 ypc and 6 TDs – which is why I had written many time during last year’s preseason that we wouldn’t miss Boyd at all… and we didn’t.
But he has to get that “Catch Rate” up into the 60% and 70% range and stardom will follow… and then even more TDs. That said – he’s a good one and will be very exciting to watch play this year.
Here is the same chart for 2015’s top two Pitt receivers – look how lopsided our passing game was then with 54% of our receptions going to only two players. Whereas in ’16 it took Weah, Orndoff and Henderson to reach that percentage.
In 2015 Boyd and Ford were targeted 175 times with 117 catches for 1,444 yards at 12.2 ypc and 8 TDs. Not so good really.
In 2016 Weah and Orndoff were targeted 124 times with 71 catches for 1,449 yards – almost exactly the same yardage- -but with 20.4 ypc and 15 TDs. That 8.2 more ypc and seven more TDs ain’t chopped liver.
You know what – Boyd was a good one – but I’m glad he was gone. We were way more productive and thus helped our run game to combine and get to our great 40.5 ppg last season without him.
This last year’s, and this coming year’s, ability to spread the ball around to different receivers works extremely well for us in a more balanced passing attack.
FB George Aston excelled as a receiver last year as did James Conner – both had over 80% catch rates and good yardage out of the backfield, especially Conner’s 14.4 ypc. That will be hard for any of our current RBs to replicate because, well – they are not James Conner. So I think we’ll see our WRs used more than last year in the passing game.
Aston will get his share this year also as will Henderson but we’ll see more of the younger guys get more playing time this year. Whether that translates into more actual yardage, 1st downs, TDs and wins is a different story – 50% of that burden lies on the QB shoulders and more specifically his passing arm.
All in all, and given the extra year experience these kids will have, I think our ’17 WRs are a definite:
Note: Someone commented with a question regarding how many starters the ACC had when I wrote that article yesterday about the polls so here it is:
BTW – everyone should copy this ACC 2017 Preseason Prospectus and keep it handy for reference – tons of great info in it.