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OAYP: 2019 Sun Belt Receiver Rankings

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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The new OAYP advanced metric ranks the Sun Belt's returning receivers.

In case you missed the quarterback or running back rankings, click the links below. The quarterback rankings also have a more thorough explanation of the formula.

QB | RB

As we did with the quarterbacks and running backs and will do with all of the other position groups, let’s tier them out into ‘superstars’ (marginal OAYP >1), ‘second tier’ (marginal OAYP between 0.5-1.0), and potential breakout stars (players that didn’t get enough reps to qualify, but posted high OAYP scores on a smaller sample size).

The league lost a ton of pass catching talent from last season. Gone are six of the top eight conference receivers to graduation or the NFL -- Damion Willis, Jamarius Way, Marcus Green, Malcolm Williams, Justin McInnis, and Penny Hart -- and another top ten wideout, RJ Turner, transferred from ULM to Texas Tech. Because of that, there are literally only ten qualified returnees at the position, so each player’s individual score has an outsized impact on the rest of the players’ marginal scores. These numbers could move a lot when compared to the national scores, but for the time being, there is some value in comparing them to their SBC counterparts.

*marginal OAYP in parentheses*

Superstars

-Corey Sutton, App State (2.02)
-Ja'Marcus Bradley, Louisiana (1.42)

Corey Sutton emerged as the Sun Belt’s premier big play receiver in 2018. After transferring from Kansas State and sitting out the 2017 season, Sutton led the league with an average of 17.6 yards per reception and ten touchdowns, the most by a Mountaineer since 2011. B.J. Bennett also recently pointed out that the only returning receivers with at least 10 touchdowns with 17.5 yards per catch or more last fall are Alabama's Jerry Jeudy, the Biletnikoff Award winner, Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb and Sutton. Plus, according to Pro Football Focus, he leads all Sun Belt returnees in yards per route run, having averaged a full yard more than Ja’Marcus Bradley a season ago.

Speaking of Bradley, second among SBC returnees in yards per route run, the Ragin’ Cajun also tied Sutton atop the conference with ten receiving scores of his own. He also brings back the highest contested catch rate in the league, reeling in 50% such targets in 2018, which is a good 10% higher than his nearest competitor, and almost 15% higher than even that of Sutton’s, who is third.

Second Tier

-Kawaan Baker, South Alabama (0.93)

For better or worse, South Alabama’s offense will look a lot different, at least from a personnel standpoint, than it did last year. One thing is clear, though: Kawaan Baker should get the ball a lot. Be it after taking a handoff or catching a pass from the slot, Baker is far and away the most dynamic offensive weapon on the team. A receiver by trade, he was second behind Jamarius Way in targets and touchdowns last year, but led their starters in yards per target, yards per reception, and success rate. Curiously, and the running back marginal OAYP rankings paint a similar picture, he was also the team’s most effective ball carrier, and nine of his 13 total touchdowns -- which ranked third in the Sun Belt -- came on the ground. It will be interesting to see how he’s used next season, but, again, the key is to simply make sure to use him as often as possible.

Potential Breakout Stars

-Jeremiah Haydel, Texas State (2.1)
-Jarrod Jackson, Louisiana (1.81)
-Jonathan Adams, Arkansas State (1.27)
-Ky'Jon Tyler, Coastal Carolina (0.76)

I love Haydel’s breakout potential. The marginal OAYP rankings were not kind to Texas State quarterback Tyler Vitt, but the freshman did show some real flashes in limited opportunities. Meanwhile, on a small sample size of his own, Haydel went for six on 25% of his receptions and averaged over 20 yards per catch. Now in a Jake Spavital offense, Haydel’s potential should be more fully unlocked.

Jarrod Jackson also has an opportunity for some upward mobility in 2019. Playing primarily from the slot, the loss of last year’s leading receiver, Ryheem Malone, should mean more targets for everyone else. Plus, with Ja’Marcus Bradley commanding some serious attention on the boundary, not to mention the ever present rushing threat of the best stable of backs in the Sun Belt, there should be ample opportunity for Jackson to find space.

Jonathan Adams is an interesting case with new offensive coordinator Keith Heckendorf taking over the play calling duties from Blake Anderson. And, to go with all the coaching staff turnover, Arkansas State also has to replace the 2018 Sun Belt Player of the Year behind center. Nevertheless, even though Justice Hansen’s top target last year, Kirk Merritt, is back in the slot, Adams ought to earn ample opportunities to shine in Justin McInnis’ departed role.

Tyler was Coastal Carolina’s second leading receiver in 2018, but just missed the minimum qualifying threshold. A useful piece on special teams for a couple of years, too, losing Malcolm Williams has finally opened the door for Tyler to be one of the conference’s scariest playmakers. He ranks third among Sun Belt returnees in yards per route run and boasted a solid 74.3% catch rate. He didn’t run the ball much last year, but he did have 11 carries in 2017. Losing Marcus Outlow, plus a slew of transfers from the running back position, could open the door for him to get some more touches that way. He also boasts the versatility, athleticism, and skillset to win from outside or in the slot. I’m not saying he will be Marcus Green this season, but he has that sort of upside if the Chants get the quarterback position sorted out.

Full Marginal OAYP Rankings for Qualifying Sun Belt Receivers

1. Corey Sutton, App State (2.02)
2. Ja'Marcus Bradley, Louisiana (1.42)
3. Kawaan Baker, South Alabama (0.93)
4. Thomas Hennigan, App State (0.46)
5. Omar Bayless, Arkansas State (0.31)
6. Cornelius McCoy, Georgia State (0.1)
7. Kirk Merritt, Arkansas State (-0.26)
8. Hutch White, Texas State (-1.19)
9. Markis McCray, ULM (-1.43)
10. Caleb Twyford, Texas State (-2.36)

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: jim@espncoastal.com Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP