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Target Distribution And Wide Receiver Rotation In Mike Leach's Offense

This is the first in a series of posts I will be writing breaking down Mike Leach's offense. I'll leave the X's and O's to Brian, Jeff and others, instead I'll be taking a statistical look inside Leach's offense at Texas Tech and how it might relate to WSU. The data used in this series comes from the 88 games of play-by-play I was able to find.

There seems to be a prevailing thought among WSU fans that the Cougars are loaded with wide receivers. It's easy to see why, the previous staff recruited the position heavily and having a star like Marquess Wilson makes the group look stronger than it is. As a result, a lot of fans found it surprising when the new staff immediately targeted a number of wide receiver prospects. However, as we will all quickly learn, when it comes to wide receivers there is depth and then there is Mike Leach depth.

During Leach's last four seasons at Texas Tech, an average of 11.75 wide receivers saw at least one target per season. WSU currently has nine wide receivers on scholarship and that includes Blair Bomber, Rahmel Dockery and Dominique Williams who have yet to play a down of college football. During the 2007 season, 13 Texas Tech wide receivers were targeted with a pass. Including walk-ons, WSU has 13 wide receivers on the current roster. Below you can see how many wide receivers were targeted in Leach's final few seasons at Tech, compared with WSU over the last two seasons.

Now, you may be saying, "That's great, Leach uses a lot of wide receivers in blowouts, so what?" While it is true, Leach subs generously in the late stages of blowouts, he also utilizes a deep wide receiver rotation during tightly contested games.

Going back to the 2007 Texas Tech season, seven different wide receivers were targeted at least 20 times. At the start of fall camp next season, the Cougars will have three wide receivers with 20 or more career targets. Wilson leads the way with 218 career targets followed by Gino Simone with 98 and Bobby Ratliff with 41. The next highest is Kristoff Williams with 16.

In fact, if we look a little deeper at the numbers from 2006-2009 we find that Leach's top seven wide receivers account for nearly 75 percent of total targets.

What does this mean in terms of number of targets? Well, I'm glad you asked. During the 2006-2009 stretch of data, Texas Tech threw an average of 659 times per season. Based on that number, you can see the target breakdown below.

  • WR1: 144.5
  • WR2: 107.3
  • WR3: 81.0
  • WR4: 60.5
  • WR5: 44.8
  • WR6: 28.5
  • WR7: 23.5

Compare that to WSU's top seven returning wide receivers ordered by their 2011 yards per target and you start to understand why Leach and his staff are recruiting wide receivers so heavily.

If the usage and order remain the same, you are looking at roughly 100 targets going to wide receivers who averaged a combined 4.4 YPT last season. Having 15 percent of your pass attempts go to players who produced that far below average will simply not get it done. Now, some will certainly improve on their 2011 performance, and the top seven is very much in flux with Dominique Williams, Dockery and Bomber also in the mix.

Even still, Leach will likely utilize at least a seven man rotation at wide receiver and doing so will require at least six players to step into significantly larger roles. Only Wilson has proven he can remain effective with a usage rate similar to what he will see next year. Ratliff was solid over 41 targets in 2011, but it's still unknown whether he can carry that effectiveness over upwards of 100 targets next year.

Even if the nine current scholarship wide receivers all produce at effective levels, depth is still a serious concern. WSU currently has the depth to run last season's offense where the top four wide receivers combined for 86 percent of wide receiver targets. They might have the depth to run Leach's offense if everyone stays healthy, but that is very unlikely. Simone, Bomber and Kristoff Williams have all struggled with injuries during their WSU careers, if injury problems persist you are looking at redshirt freshman walk-ons possibly playing significant roles.

In an ideal world, my guess is Leach would prefer to have somewhere between 12 and 14 scholarship wide receivers, with walk-ons also factoring in. The three current wide receiver commits would bring the total to 12 and it's possible some of the wide receivers already on scholarship don't fit the Leach mold. Don't be surprised to see Leach sign as many as five wide receivers this signing class just to get the numbers healthy enough to ensure he can run his offense from day one without limitations.

Despite the appearance of depth, no position may have as many question marks heading into next season as wide receiver. Wilson will likely do great things (more on that later in this series), but the coaching staff is still on the search for at least six other key contributors. As I said at the top, there is normal wide receiver depth and then there is Leach wide receiver depth, the Cougs have the former and the staff is currently working on acquiring the latter.