Hidden Receiving Ability: 2018 RBs and the Backfield Dominator Rating

In the past we’ve measured RB contributions in the receiving game in one of two ways. Either we measure their raw counting stats — i.e., the total number of receptions and receiving yards (which does have predictive value) — or we measure their receiving contribution as a percentage of team receiving production, via the College Dominator Rating. Both have drawbacks that make them less-than-perfect measurements of a college back’s true receiving ability.

When 19 Is More Than 54

Measuring raw totals, of course, penalizes RBs on low-passing-volume offenses. San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny is one of the top backs in the 2018 class. But Penny only caught 19 passes this year, which pales in comparison to Saquon Barkley’s 54 catches. Barkley managed almost five times more receiving yards than Penny. At first glance, Barkley looks to be far and away the better pass catcher. But here’s where the raw totals might not be giving us an accurate picture. San Diego State attempted just 19.4 passes per game. Only six FBS teams passed the ball less. Barkley’s team, Penn State, on the other hand, attempted more than 35 passes per game, slightly above league average. Although Barkley has far more receiving yards than Penny, as a percentage of team receiving yards, the difference between them is much smaller. This is where using market-share-based metrics such as College Dominator can be hugely helpful. Unfortunately, there is a problem with the College Dominator rating as well. It unfairly penalizes RBs whose teams choose not to utilize RBs in the passing game. Again, looking at Penny, he accounted for only about seven percent of San Diego State’s receiving yardage — a small percentage, even for a RB. Barkley, for instance, accounted for nearly 17 percent of Penn State’s receiving yardage.

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By Blair Andrews | @AmItheRealBlair | Archive