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Comparing the College Production of the Bengals’ Young Pass Catchers

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Image via Mark Runyon/Football Schedule

This was the post I set out to write when I ventured down the rabbit hole and ended up writing about Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham, but what’s done is done. The Bengals’ pass catchers are young enough and have NFL resumes short enough that it makes a little bit of sense to compare their college production just so we can get a sense as to the resume that each of them brought to the NFL.

Here’s the heatmap from the app. Comments are below.

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msYDS and msTD are just offense adjusted stats. They reflect a player’s share of college passing yards and touchdowns.

A few notes:

  • I think it’s really interesting that Marvin Jones saw 123 targets during the 2011 season. I saw some people point to Keenan Allen’s bogarting of targets as a reason that Jones didn’t produce more on the field in college. But 123 targets is a pretty healthy number. It’s still possible (read: likely) that the QB situation at Cal just sucked so bad that Jones put up the pretty terrible 6.9 yards/target. Over Jones’ career he turned 22% of his red zone targets into touchdowns. That’s decent for a smaller WR. He wasn’t targeted a lot on a yearly basis, so that’s why that number fluctuates a lot on the graph.
  • Mohamed Sanu was a target machine at Rutgers. He wasn’t very efficient with his targets, and he was also one of the slower WRs coming out of college. During his rookie year he showed signs of promise although he kept up the abysmal yards/target rate (on a small number of targets – 25 – just to be fair to him). I think it’s tough to know what to expect out of Sanu in the future. I think it’s possible that he’s better than his 40 time and college production say, and I also wouldn’t be at risk to own him in any league. I just have no idea how to do the talent + opportunity math on Sanu. Both variables are question marks I think.
  • I’ve already spent a good amount of energy on the issue of Eifert and Gresham. The part of me that wants to believe that the Bengals are improving their decision making also wants to believe that they intend to roll with 2 TEs. I really hope they don’t plan to just swap out Gresham for Eifert as I think that would be similar to lighting a draft pick on fire. Again, I’m not saying Eifert isn’t any good. But they had a guy who was good enough in Gresham. Fingers crossed that they play both guys (and also that someone else in your league spends a pick on Eifert).
  • AJ Green’s red zone TD rate fluctuated, but it was a solid 28% over his college career. That’s good, but not otherworldly. But you can see that Green’s college career is head and shoulders above the others on efficiency as he averaged about 3 yards/target more than Sanu and was solidly ahead of Marvin Jones.  Green also accounted for a larger percent of the Georgia offense while he was there. That’s to be expected of course, as Green was a top pick and the other guys were mid-round picks for the Bengals.

From a talent standpoint, the Bengals obviously have one real standout. I’ve said before that watching AJ Green is like watching an NBA player at Rucker Park. Everyone knows where the ball is going and yet defenses can’t seem to stop Green any more than a gym teacher is going to stop Kevin Durant. But after Green I think it’s pretty muddy at WR. Maybe Sanu is good, and maybe he isn’t. Maybe Jones is good, but I really don’t know. So I do think that the optimal strategy for the Bengals is to pursue an offense that both Eifert and Gresham factor into.

What’s the real offshoot of this analysis? Andy Dalton really should look better as a cheap QB strategy. The Bengals have used a bunch of picks to get him offensive weapons. We don’t have a lot of clarity as to how things will go outside of a bunch of balls thrown to AJ Green. So Dalton is your best chance to try to get some upside out of the Bengals draft picks. To put it another way, even if I was a huge Eifert fan, I think the optimal strategy is to let someone else burn a pick on Eifert and then I would take Dalton instead as a way to get some Eifert upside without the risk that Eifert gets outplayed by (or ends up in a timeshare with) Gresham.

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