<
>

Crunching the numbers: Big Ten wide receivers/tight ends

You're probably familiar with who led the Big Ten in catches last season (Aaron Burbridge) or who finished with the most receiving touchdowns (Leonte Carroo). But those numbers only scratch the surface of a receiver's ability.

What returning Big Ten players never dropped a ball, and who had the most drops? Who was the most serious threat downfield? And who was most likely to turn a short pass into a long gain? Those are the more interesting questions -- and those are ones we tried to answer.

Once again, just like last week, the statistics aren't perfect here. Variables like catch difficulty, quarterback and opponent aren't taken into account, so some numbers might appear inflated or deflated. Regardless, it's still an interesting look at who was most effective on paper in 2015 -- and who might surprise in 2016.

Take a look:

Who's the Big Ten's most sure-handed receiver? (min: 30 receptions)

The best: Iowa TE Henry Krieger Coble (0 percent drop rate; 35 catches on 35 targets)

Maybe this wasn't the name you were expecting but, based on the numbers, this is really beyond argument. Let's put this into perspective: Krieger Coble was thrown to 35 times last season, and he caught 35 balls. Simple enough, right? Well, it's virtually unheard of. Usually, a quarterback misfires a few times or a ball is out of a target's range. That's why the average Power 5 target last season caught just 63.1 percent of the balls thrown his way. Krieger Coble caught every single one. Since 2012, Krieger Coble is the only -- yes, the only -- Power 5 wideout/tight end to do that. He benefited from catching balls that usually came no more than 5 yards upfield, but it's still not easy to achieve perfection.

The runners-up: Iowa WR Matt VandeBerg (0 percent drop rate) and Maryland's Levern Jacobs (0 percent drop rate)

Only 12 wideouts/tight ends in the Power 5 finished the 2015 season without a drop, and three Big Ten players were among them. (Michigan TE Jake Butt would have been next in line here with just a 1.3 percent drop rate.) Also, Iowa just so happened to be the only Power 5 team to boast two players without a drop. VanderBerg caught nearly twice as many passes as Jacobs, but Jacobs' passes also came a lot farther upfield. Who performed better here is open to interpretation.

The bottom: Wisconsin WR Robert Wheelwright (13.7 percent drop rate)

On 51 targets, Wheelwright caught 32 balls. But the important piece of info here? He also dropped seven for the worst drop rate in the conference. Wheelwright showed he can play with highlights like this, but he was also consistent when it came to drops. Of the eight games he played in, he had drops in six of those contests.

Who's the best at turning a short pass into a long gain? (min: 20 receptions, on passes thrown no farther than 5 yards upfield)

The best: Michigan WR Amara Darboh (8.93 yards after catch, on passes thrown no farther than 5 yards upfield)

Of Darboh's 58 catches, 27 were made within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. He certainly made the most of them. He took those receptions nearly 9 more yards upfield, and that was especially effective against Utah and Penn State. Darboh's numbers also weren't really inflated here; his long was just 28 yards. But he was still quite effective; more than 40 percent of his catches went for a first down or touchdown.

The runner-up: Minnesota WR Drew Wolitarsky (8.91 yards after catch)

Most of his yards came in the first two games, against TCU and Colorado State. So Wolitarsky is kind of a statistical outlier. He's still obviously good in this category. But Penn State's Chris Godwin (8.5 yards after catch) and Rutgers' Janarion Grant (8.5) weren't too far behind, and both were much more consistent. Each had at least one such catch in every game; Wolitarsky failed to make such a catch in six contests.

The worst: Michigan TE Butt (4.6 yards after catch)

Even if we dropped the minimum to 10 such receptions, Butt would still rank near the bottom of the conference. Specifically, he'd rank No. 55 among 68 qualified players and fifth among the eight qualified tight ends. But it's clear Butt excels in more important areas. As mentioned above, he's fourth among returning receivers/tight ends in drop rate (1.3 percent).

Who's the biggest deep threat? (min: 10 targets of 20-plus yards)

The best: Nebraska WR Jordan Westerkamp (56.5 percent catch rate on 20-plus yard throws; 13 catches on 23 targets)

Technically, this stat is a bit skewed because the quarterback is just as important as the receiver with this. But great receivers can adjust, and there really should be no doubt that Westerkamp is the best in the B1G right here. Only two receivers last season were targeted more downfield, and only Rutgers' Carroo fared better on the catch rate (72.2 percent). Westerkamp was also one of the few receivers who didn't drop a single ball on the long throws.

The runner-up: Nebraska WR Brandon Reilly (47.6 percent catch rate; 10 catches on 21 targets) and Michigan WR Jehu Chesson (47.1 percent catch rate; 8 catches on 17 targets)

For the record, 26 Big Ten wideouts qualified for this and the average catch rate was 36.4 percent. So it's not as if the Huskers have no competition here. Reilly did drop two of his 21 targets, which was among the worst in the conference, but he still hauled in targets at a higher rate than nearly everyone else. Chesson dropped a single ball, and three of his eight catches went for TDs. Only one returning wideout -- Indiana's Ricky Jones -- had more scores on such catches.

The worst: Nebraska WR Stanley Morgan (10 percent catch rate; 1 catch on 10 targets)

Notice a recurring theme yet? Because it sure seems as if the Huskers like to throw downfield. But no one in the conference technically fared worse than Morgan, who dropped as many balls (1) as he caught here. Again, you can just chalk it up to Tommy Armstrong Jr. not being on the same page with Morgan. But it is interesting that none of the other Husker wideouts posted similar numbers.