For a team so defined by uncertainty, it’s astounding how much of a given it is that Ole Miss’ passing game is going to thrive in Phil Longo’s second year as coordinator.
Part of that confidence can be attributed to quarterback Jordan Ta’amu, who came out of nowhere last season to helm the SEC’s most explosive offense. The other part of the equation is the group of weapons he’ll get to play with, and the amount of continuity in the room suggests this group’s best days are ahead.
Reaping the benefits of having blue chip receivers isn’t a new concept to Ole Miss fans, but there’s something unique about this group. Most, if not all, of the Rebels’ main targets will likely be at the peak of their college careers in 2018.
Considering what they’ve already done on the field, that confluence of talent has to leave fans even more excited than they already were. Here are some stats from 2017 that give an idea of what these guys are capable of.
1. Ole Miss’ Big 3 each averaged over 16 yards per catch
Last season, only 13 Power 5 receivers saw at least 74 targets and averaged 16 or more yards per catch. Three of them will start for Ole Miss in 2018: A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf, and DaMarkus Lodge.
2. 24 percent of receptions gained 20 or more yards
Among this season’s likely group of top targets (that aforementioned big three, plus Dawson Knox and Braylon Sanders), 24 percent of their receptions from 2017 gained 20 or more yards. The national average is 10 percent.
3. A.J. Brown totaled 643 yards after the catch
There are a lot of ways to express how much of a nightmare Brown was in the open field last season. We even have a list of times the mayor of Starkville made defensive backs look very very silly, and it will most definitely grow after this season.
Aside from that raw YAC total being higher than anyone else’s in the SEC, it’s absurd that it makes up more than half of his total receiving yards. Also worth mentioning is that he racked up 21 missed tackles, which is a total that shouldn’t be next to a receiver’s name. He is, as we say in the advanced football statistics community, very good at football.
4. Brown also caught 79.8 percent of passes thrown his way
Generally speaking, receivers who catch this large of chunk of their targets are rightfully labeled possession receivers who are there to keep the offense on schedule. Brown’s different in that he still ripped off big gains with regularity.
There were just 28 receivers who caught 75 percent or more of their passes on 50 or more targets in 2017. Just making that cut would be impressive, but Brown’s 16.7 yards per catch leads the pack (the average for this group is just 11).
5. Damarkus Lodge averaged 17.4 air yards per target
Lodge may be perceived by some as an all-or-nothing type of receiver, but this piece of context is key—this is how far the ball traveled through the air when heading his way.
The only other returning SEC receiver with a higher air yards figure on 70 or more targets is Auburn’s Darius Slayton, but he only had a 31 percent success rate last season compared to Lodge’s 47 percent.
6. D.K. Metcalf put up a Marginal IsoPPP of 0.52
Technically, D.K. Metcalf has been on campus since 2016, but because of a toe injury that year, he was considered a freshman last season. That means we get to compare him to inferior freshmen.
Among freshmen who were targeted 70 or more times last season, Metcalf led the group in both yards per catch (16.6) and marginal explosiveness, which measures how much more a player produces than expected based on situation.
7. Dawson Knox had 13 yards per catch
The Rebel tight end came out of nowhere last season as a walk-on. He’s among just seven Power 5 players weighing 250 pounds or more who put up at least 13 yards per catch (30 or more targets) in 2017.
He hasn’t approached Evan Engram’s apex in terms of sheer volume, but his per-opportunity numbers suggest he’s ready to take on a bigger role in this offense.