Daily Focus: What's next for Oklahoma State after WR surgery
Every week day in “Daily Focus,” Pro Football Focus looks at the top college football storylines and explains what they mean from a PFF perspective.
Surgery sidelines Oklahoma State’s top returning wide receiver: Behind the arm of quarterback Mason Rudolph, the Oklahoma State Cowboys will be hoping they can go a step further in 2016 than they did a year ago and actually win the Big 12. Rudolph is a fantastic college quarterback, there’s no doubt about that, but he does need weapons to throw to and with David Glidden finishing up his time at the school last season, Marcell Ateman was the highest-graded returning wide receiver on the roster. After having foot surgery however, it is not known how soon he’ll be back on the field.
Should he miss an extended period of time, it’s a big loss for the Cowboys’ offense. A big target at 6’4, Ateman improved from his sophomore to junior seasons, seeing his yardage significantly increase from 268 to 767, and his yards per catch jump from 13.4 to 17.0. Providing a big target for Rudolph, he caught four touchdowns and dropped just four of the 49 catchable passes thrown his way, leading us to believe he was the man to help replace the production lost when Glidden’s eligibility ended.
He has filled a very specific role for the team in each of the past two seasons, with 519 of his 577 snaps in 2015 and 337 of his 347 snaps in 2014 coming at left wide receiver. Such is the nature of the Cowboys’ offense. The plus side to that is that they aren’t looking for someone to replace a player who has been used in multiple spots, but it still leaves them thinner than they would like at the position.
James Washington was being counted on to be the top receiver again, after leading the team with 1,086 yards last season, but if Ateman misses the start of the season Jhajuan Seales is the player in line to see an upturn in snaps. He averaged 17.8 yards per reception last season, but did it on just 18 catches, and also dropped four of the 22 catchable passes thrown his way. One player to keep an eye on could be is sophomore Jalen McCleskey, who flashed as a freshman last year. He had just 28 receptions, but five of them went for 50 yards or more and he didn’t drop a single pass, also adding four missed tackles on those 28 receptions.
Kansas and Minnesota reportedly interested in ex-Florida QB Harris: Florida confirmed on Monday that quarterback Treon Harris had opted to transfer out of the program, coming soon after the announcement that Harris was being moved to wide receiver. While he would have to sit out the 2016 season if he joined another FBS school, that hasn’t stopped Kansas and Minnesota, among other teams, from having apparent interest.
Harris graded negatively as a passer in each of the past two seasons, but did impress as a runner, rushing for 454 yards on 69 carries and forcing 22 missed tackles, though he did fumble the ball four times. Most of those runs came on quarterback scrambles, with Harris racking up 341 of those yards and 14 of the missed tackles on his 39 scrambles.
Kansas didn’t have a single of their four quarterbacks who played last year finish the year with a positive grade, either as a passer or as a runner. Freshman Ryan Willis has the size people look for in a quarterback at 6’4, but he needs to improve significantly in his sophomore season, particularly under pressure, where he completed just 39.1 percent of his passes a year ago. If he can’t make those improvements, a player like Harris coming in for the 2017 season with two years of eligibility left would at least offer something as a runner.
For Minnesota, Mitch Leidner only really graded well in the bowl game against Central Michigan for us last year, and finished the season with a negative grade. Like Willis at Kansas, he has size in his corner at 6’4, and is even being talked about as a potential high NFL draft pick, despite grading negatively in each of the past two seasons. Either way, he’ll be leaving Minnesota after this season, so Harris could be a fit to come in a lead the offense for two years after that.
What PFF grades say about top senior pass rusher Tim Williams: Yesterday, NFL.com Lance Zierlein released his top 15 seniors heading into the 2016 season, and named Alabama edge defender Williams as his top guy. Williams hasn’t had a lot of hype this offseason, likely because he has played just 256 snaps over the past two seasons, but if you read my article earlier this offseason about how devastating he and Ryan Anderson can be together, you’ll know how we feel about him at PFF.
While he played limited snaps though, his production was off the charts. He had 52 total pressures on just 148 pass rushing attempts, working out at an incredible rate of one pressure every 2.8 pass rushing attempts. His pass rushing productivity rating, which measures pressure on a per snap basis, of 28.4, was the best of any 3-4 outside linebacker next year. Both he and Ryan Anderson are poised for much bigger roles this year, and that’s terrifying for opposing offensive lines.