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Ole Miss’ receiving corps has been one of the most dominant in the country

Despite losing Laquon Treadwell and Cody Core, the 2016 Rebel receivers have quickly established themselves as some of the nation’s most prolific pass-catchers.

Alabama v Mississippi Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

With Ole Miss having to replace two incredible talents in Laquon Treadwell and Cody Core, there was reason to question whether the remaining receivers would be able to fill the void in 2016. Through five games against some talented secondaries, they’ve displayed more than enough to free us of any dumb concerns we may have had. Beyond just providing stability at the position, the Ole Miss receivers have exceeded expectations and shown that they firmly belong in the conversation of best receiving corps in college football.

It wasn’t exactly a secret that so much of Hugh Freeze’s recruiting success is concentrated on the receiver position, to the point that it gets hard to keep track of all of the blue-chip pass catchers he’s reeled in to Oxford. While losing the best wideout in the program’s history wasn’t ideal, the Rebels have more than made up for it with an amount of depth that’s been overwhelming for opposing defenses. It seems like roster turnover at most positions for Ole Miss almost always triggers a rocky transition, but that hasn’t been the case for this year’s receivers.

The Rebels may have, top to bottom, the best receiving corps in the nation.

To see how Grant Heard’s crew stacks up with the other premier receiving squads around the country, I picked out the teams projected to have the best group of receivers coming into 2016, as well as a few of the highest ranking teams according to Bill C.’s Passing S&P+. Since the quarterback obviously plays a major role in passing production, there’s only so much you can do to isolate what a receiver deserves sole credit for, but this is a start.

I took the top six receivers of each team and found out how well they as a unit capitalize on a pass being thrown their way*. Ole Miss’ receiving corps ranks near or at the top in every category and has the best overall average rank of any group. Some teams rely heavily on just one incredibly gifted player, such as Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel, who has caught an incredible 96 percent of his targets so far this season. The Rebels distinguish themselves by having a ton of depth and parity at the position.

The numbers you see at the end of each bar represent that team’s rank in that category. So Ole Miss ranks fourth in catch rate, first in success rate and third in yards per target.

*If you care, I took the average of each metric, weighted by players’ target rates, for every team.

Chad Kelly is sharing the wealth, and it’s paying dividends.

Treadwell, understandably, took up a big chunk of last year’s targets. After him, there was a pretty huge drop-off, which made it difficult from a fan’s standpoint to project who would become the go-to receivers in 2016. The reality is that the 2015 season is probably the closest that the distribution of touches will ever get to resembling a bell cow offense for Hugh Freeze.

Since Week 1 of this season, Evan Engram has taken on the role of leading receiver, but there’s still been a relatively even share of targets this time around. Not only has this kept an overwhelming burden off Engram’s shoulders, but it’s given other guys a chance to produce and prove their worth at a rate that doesn’t result in diminishing returns. Every single receiver is a legitimate threat to the opposing secondary, and everyone (except the other team) has benefited from it.

The depth of this receiving corps is insane.

This graph shows a side-by-side comparison of this year’s receivers vs. last year’s arranged by targets. For instance, last year’s No. 1 receiver (Laquon Treadwell) has been outperformed by this year’s No. 1 receiver (Evan Engram), at least in terms of catch rate, success rate and yards per target.

It’s become apparent that this year’s looser targets hierarchy has resulted in a pretty significant jump in all-around efficiency. Tight ends shouldn’t be averaging more than 12 yards per target like Engram is, but when you have a quarterback who thinks checkdowns are for nerds excels at throwing the ball downfield, it gives you plenty of opportunities to catch some deep balls and make your position title seem like just a formality.

No one expected Van Jefferson to contribute a great amount immediately after redshirting his freshman year. He’s provided the offense the stability of a possession receiver who can move the chains when you need it, while at the same time displaying way too much explosiveness to restrict him to only that role.

When Damore’ea Stringfellow first transferred from Washington to Ole Miss, I figured at the very least he’d be able to use his size and athleticism to turn a screen into a decent chunk of yards by trucking defenders silly enough to challenge him. He’s proven himself to be much more versatile, and you certainly can’t say that his high catch rate is merely a byproduct of catching short passes.

With a success rate of 67 percent and an impressive 11.3 yards per target, he’s one of the rare cases in which insane efficiency doesn’t imply a sacrifice of explosive plays. Like much of the Rebel receiving crew, he has excelled at catching contested passes in traffic and causing defenders to maybe consider a different career path, particularly one involving less emasculation.

Quincy Adeboyejo is essentially catching up to his own solid production in 2015, and while it looks like he’s not off to a great start, he’s caught a decent 65 percent of passes thrown his way since the FSU game, in which he caught just two of six passes. In other words, he’ll be just fine. A.J. Brown and DeMarkus Lodge have shown flashes of brilliance, and with improved yards per target figures from the previous year’s fifth and sixth options, it’s evident that they’re fully capable of overcoming inexperience and making plays when needed right now. It wasn’t exactly clear coming into the season what the pecking order of the receivers would look like, but it’s plain to see now that maintaining a strict hierarchy of targets isn’t all that critical when you have multiple guys who can step up at any moment.