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For Drew Lock to make the leap, the Missouri receiving corps needs to, too

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The story of Drew Lock’s improvement must also be one of his receivers

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Missouri
J’Mon Moore: priority target.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Attention, Bill Connelly or any other analytics expert that may happen to read this post: I need your help creating a stat.

It’s like Range Factor, but for wide receivers.

Using fielding percentage alone, for example, one might assume that Derek Jeter (.976) and Ozzie Smith (.978) were pretty comparable when it came to their play in the field.

Looking at range factor, though, you start to understand that Smith netted a similar fielding percentage to Jeter while getting to far more plays than the Yankee shortstop.

Ergo, Smith was a far superior defensive shortstop. But you wouldn’t necessarily know that just from fielding percentage.

Now allow me to try and connect all this baseball nerdery to, say, Missouri football.

J’Mon Moore came under fire last year for two main reasons. One, he had a bunch of drops. Two, the Tigers’ pass offense was not very efficient when it threw to him.

Compare him to most feature receivers in the country, and his completion percentage (49.2) when thrown to was very poor.

But, and here we come back to this “I wish we had a Range Factor for receivers” type thing, I would like to posit two things:

One, yes, Lock tended to rely too much on Moore at times, and Moore didn’t do himself many favors in the eyes of Missouri fans with his cases of the drops.

Two, Moore was the best on the team at consistently getting a throwing window against defensive backs, even if it was brief. Therefore it led Lock to throw it to him more, in tighter situations, and contributed to that low completion percentage.

Range Factor: Moore made himself available for more passes than anyone else and, even if he wasn’t coming up with them, at least he was getting open(ish).

So, if Drew Lock is to make the big step forward in efficiency this year, he’ll need the receiving corps as a whole (including Moore) to get more sure-handed. He’ll also need at least one more consistent threat to show him an opening on any given play. I’m not just talking a 65-yard touchdown down the seam once every three games.

I’m talking 3rd-and-10 in the second quarter, Lock rolling out from pressure and guys keeping routes alive to at least give him a chance.

Because that, fair readers, is where a bunch of Moore’s incompletions came. And, while he didn’t cash many of those opportunities in, at least he was making himself available.

I went back and charted all the passes Lock threw against Power-5 competition last year because, really, those are the games that matter. I did miss, however, 10 passes in the Vanderbilt game, because they are conspicuously missing from the game film that is available to me.

I charted each throw by distance and counted passes broken up and drops. Now, I feel bad counting drops because it is an extremely arbitrary stat and I’m fairly sure that, were I even to attempt to catch an average pass from Drew Lock, the ball would crush both of my hands, break through them, them cave my sternum into my lungs, causing instant death.

So who am I to judge drops? But I did anyway. Basically, any time a receiver got two hands on the ball and he wasn’t, like, diving or full extension to the fingertips upwards, it was a drop.

I also did a little bit of YAC (yards after catch)...just because.

Here is that data broken down by position group: outside receivers, inside receivers and tight ends/halfbacks:

Here is that same data again, by distance of the pass:

So what sticks out to you the most about those numbers? Moore’s 12 drops, right? Yeah, that’s not great. It’s more than half of the team total.

But, really, most of them were on short routes. He had one in 21 deep attempts while, say, Mason had two in 13. If we add up the total yardage lost by all those drops (just with bad in the air, not with whatever the receiver would have done with it after), we get this:

J’Mon Moore -- 12 drops, 116 yards
Dimetrios Mason — 3 drops, 71 yards
Chris Black 2 drops, 29 yards
Kendall Blanton 2 drops, 14 yards
Emanuel Hall 1 drop, 49 yards
Johnathon Johnson 1 drop, 6 yards
Everyone Else — 2 drops, 0 yards
Totals — 23 drops, 285 yards

Moore had drops on 11 percent of his targets. The rest of the team had drops on 5.4 percent of theirs.

But Moore forfeited about 12.6 percent of his potential yardage due to drops. The rest of the team forfeited about 10.5 percent of theirs. So while the drops were more frequent, they weren’t all that much more costly.

What interested me the most about the data was the passes defended numbers: Moore had 10 percent of his passes broken up. In Johnson, Black, Hall and Mason’s 118 combined targets, they had 10 total (8.5 percent).

Judging from PBU frequency alone, Moore’s targets were 18 percent more challenging than the other top four wideouts’. And that’s not factoring in what I was talking about earlier: How Lock sent a bunch more passes Moore’s way on a wing and a prayer, with very little chance of success, than he did his other receivers.

I don’t want to make this into a “J’Mon Moore is infallible” post, because he’s not. I do want to reiterate my sense, though, that Moore got more than twice as many targets against Power-5 teams than anybody else on the field because he was Lock’s best option the vast majority of the time.

For Missouri’s pass offense to take the next step, he needs to get more “best options” more frequently. One more year in the system for players such as Mason, Johnson and Hall should help. As should the return of Nate Brown, if he can ever get the injury bug to stop buzzing around his head.

But maybe, just maybe, if Moore has a 23-target, eight-catch game at some point next year, take a little closer look at some of those targets before bemoaning a lack of efficiency.