Friend of all Bill Connelly has been working up some interesting looks at various positions in advance of the 2015 season, and Monday's piece takes a look at receivers who are both consistent and explosive in search of breakout candidates for 2015 and beyond.
The centerpiece of the Football Study Hall post is a table compiling all of the pass-catchers in the country who combined a catch rate of better than 60 percent, an average gain of better than 15 yards per catch, and at least 25 targets in 2014.
There are a lot of the usual suspects on that list: Unguardable tight ends Clive Walford of Miami and Pharoah Cooper of South Carolina, Ohio State deep threat Devin Smith, Auburn's do-everything Duke "Don't Call Me D'Haquille" Williams. But only three teams had three players on that list of 61 names: Baylor, Oregon ... and Colorado State.
College football fans think of Baylor and Oregon as among the most explosive offenses in the sport, and rightly so: Both teams were in the top five in both scoring and total offense in 2014, and in the top 10 in passing offense. But while Colorado State lagged in scoring offense (at 32nd, with 33.9 points per game), the Rams were eighth in passing offense, ahead of No. 10 Oregon.
That had a lot to do with All-American Rashard Higgins — the only player of the 13 with more than 90 targets in Connelly's table to post a catch rate better than 70 percent — who led the nation in receiving yards and touchdowns in 2014. But Joe Hansley and Charles Lovett sneak into Connelly's table, too, despite neither player getting more than 55 targets on the season, catching a full two in three targets, or topping Hansley's 540 receiving yards. Hansley's 9.8 yards per target is the sixth-lowest in the table.
That's not low, though — just relatively so, compared to the best receivers in college football. And the other two receivers being present in the table at all speaks to McElwain's ability to design an offensive attack that not only featured a go-to wide receiver, but also fed the ball to other playmakers left open by coverage rolling toward Higgins. (Colorado State also had two other wide receivers top 14 yards per catch — freshmen Xavier Williams and Elroy Masters, Jr. — though Williams was under the yards per catch threshold, and Masters only had 10 catches on the season.)
McElwain's Rams did all that against Mountain West defenses, granted, and he had the luxury of an NFL-bound quarterback in Garrett Grayson to trigger his offense and an offensive line with more solid answers than question marks to protect Grayson. Things will be different, and more difficult, at Florida.
If his 2014 Colorado State offense — second to Baylor's in 30-yard passes in 2014, and eerily similar to the Bears' big-play profile overall — is any indication, though, McElwain knows how to make fireworks happen in the air.
Now, if his Florida receivers could start making catches on routes against air...