Last season the Pac-12 had one of the most impressive quarterback classes in history. Between Marcus Mariota, Connor Halliday, Sean Mannion and every signal caller in between there seemed to be some record-breaking pass performance every Saturday of the season.
But it wasn’t just the quarterbacks making those days look good. Someone needed to be there to catch the ball and put on a show once the ball was in their hands, meaning those wide receivers’ feet mattered just as much if not more to the passing yardage as the quarterbacks' arms.
And the Pac-12 wide receivers didn’t disappoint.
In 2014, they led Power 5 conferences with the most yardage after the catch (YAC), which is defined as the total positive yardage gained after the ball is actually in the receivers’ hands. That doesn’t come as a huge surprise considering no conference passed more than the Pac-12 in 2014. Though the Big 12 and SEC’s wide receivers contributed similar percentages to their conferences’ total yards after the catch, they trailed the Pac-12 wide receivers.
These YAC numbers offer a different insight into several aspects of passing yards. The yardage is given 100 percent to the quarterback (passing yards) and 100 percent to the receiver (receiving yards) even though it's always a combination of the two. But breaking down the Pac-12 statistics into a truer look at the pure passing yards and the after-the-catch yardage, it gives fans a better look at some players whose statistics have been undervalued and sometimes overvalued.
It comes as no surprise that the team that led the Pac-12 in those yards after the catch was Washington State. In fact, the Cougars' 2,525 of YAC was just 45 yards behind Utah’s total passing offense in 2014.
"We emphasize it," coach Mike Leach said. "It’s something that’s important to us that we make a big deal out of."
Leach said he looked at that statistic within the Cougars' offense as a gauge of efficiency regarding both his quarterbacks and his wide receivers -- route running, timing, ball placement, etc. Higher YAC numbers mean everything else is running efficiently.
But that certainly isn’t the case for every school, especially when the offenses across the Pac-12 are so diverse. For example, Colorado led the Pac-12 with the highest percentage of passing yardage coming after the catch (48.6 percent) -- meaning their wide receivers’ feet contributed almost as much to the passing yardage as did Sefo Liufau's arm. This stands in stark contrast to teams like Oregon State. Of the Beavers’ 3,305 passing yards, only 19 percent of those yards were picked up after the catch.
This "pure passing" statistic is another way to really look at some of the conference quarterbacks and another way to analyze passing statistics of top quarterbacks like Mariota, Halliday and Mannion. For example, in 2014 Oregon led the conference with 71 percent of its passing yards coming as pure passing yards (the wide receivers made up the other 28 percent of the team’s passing yards after the catch).
That number (3,385 pure passing yards for the Ducks) was still 154 yards in front of second-place Washington State’s pure passing yards of 3,231, even though Oregon attempted 297 fewer passes than the Cougars in 2014.
Wazzu and Cal followed Oregon in this "pure passing yardage" statistic with Arizona State and Oregon State not too far behind.
Unsurprisingly, those are all teams that featured incredibly talented quarterbacks, pass-heavy offenses or teams that threw several bombs last season.
However, many of those teams also had wide receivers who were able to do a lot with the ball after the catch. The conference leading Cougars with their 2,525 yards after the catch were led by Vince Mayle and Isiah Myers, who finished first and third in the conference, respectively, in individual yards after the catch.
Though USC’s Nelson Agholor finished second, it was another member on the list who made it really interesting.
UCLA’s Devin Fuller came in at fourth with 457 of his yards coming after the catch. For an astute observer of Bruins statistics, it might seem strange that he tallied 457 yards after the catch when he only accounted for 447 receiving yards in 2014.
That’s possible because of the high volume of screen passes that Fuller caught in 2014. When a 20-yard pass is caught 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage, it ultimately goes into the statistics as a 20-yard completion, but in actuality, the receiver accounts for 23 yards after the catch, which is exactly what happened on 40 of Fuller’s 59 receptions in 2014.
Fuller joins the ranks of Mayle, Agholor and Myers as a group of talented receivers who were able to create after the catch.
And a lot of that ability comes down to recruiting, according to Oregon wide receivers coach Matt Lubick.
"We always try to find guys that can make yards after catch, create things, make guys miss in space, [who are] dynamic with the ball in their hands," Lubick said. "That’s a big thing we look for when we evaluate guys on high school tape."
But by looking deeper into these kinds of numbers it also allows people to look at quarterbacks and wide receivers -- who might not always have the most impressive stats -- in a light that is actually more representative of their skills.