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Handicapping Johnathon Johnson’s Pursuit of the MU Career Receiving Yards Record

The senior from Memphis is 883 yards away. Will. He. Get. There?!?!

NCAA Football: Missouri at Purdue
Will Johnathon Johnson end his Missouri career with a program record-setting 2,779 receiving yards, or just a shameful (sarcasm font) 2,606?
Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s note: Consider it Johnathon Johnson Week here at Rock M Nation! In case you missed it, Pete Scantlebury took a stab at how likely it is that Johnson breaks Missouri’s career receiving record; today, resident nerd David Morrison (love you David!) takes a much-more nuanced swing at forecasting Johnson’s record pursuit.

It’s one of those things that kind of sneaks up on you: Johnathon Johnson is only 883 yards away from becoming Missouri’s all-time career receiving yards record holder.

Esteemed colleague Pete Scantlebury pointed this out two weeks ago. The the Mizzou Football graphics team hopped on the bandwagon in a visually appealing way — as is its wont — about a week later.

Now it’s my turn to how likely it is that Johnson will achieve this mark. And suck all the fun out of it in the process.

I projected out Johnson’s 2019 season based on what proportion of the team’s total targets, catches and receiving yards he has taken up over the past three seasons against four different levels of competition: FCS, FBS Group of 5, FBS Power 5 Above Average Pass Defenses and FBS Power 5 Below Average Pass Defenses.

(Above average means the pass defenses who gave up fewer pass yards per game when you factor the Missouri game out than the average defense — 212.5 yards per game — from 2016-18. Below average means...I think you know what it means.)

Then I took the non-Missouri pass yards per game given up by the 12 defenses the Tigers are facing this year and plotted how high Missouri has traveled above those averages in the four groups previously set out to come up with an expected pass yards total for each game for the Tigers.

Then I used Johnson’s past share of the team’s total pass yards to come up with an expected value for him. Then I did all that again, but weighted the values for recency. So, his 2018 value are tripled, 2017 are doubled and 2016 singled.

Anyway, here’s what all of that yielded for a 12- and, if the Tigers make a bowl, 13-game season (adding in one more game at Johnson’s projected season averages for FBS opponents):

Normal — 66 targets, 40 catches, 630 yards
with Bowl — 72 targets, 43 catches, 680 yards

Weighted — 70 targets, 42 catches, 657 yards
with Bowl — 76 targets, 46 catches, 710 yards

How does that compare with what he did last year? Well, he had 91 targets, 59 catches and 737 yards. Surely those numbers won’t take a step back this year, right? With Emanuel Hall gone?

Not necessarily.

One, Johnson actually averaged fewer targets (5.75) and yards (41.5) per game with Hall not playing last year than he did when Hall was in the lineup (7.56 targets, 63.4 yards).

Which brings me to two: Hall was not the Johnson target vulture last year. Albert Okwuegbunam was. Johnson averaged 8.50 targets and 81.0 yards a game when Okwuegbunam was out hurt and 6.33 targets and 45.9 yards a game when Okwuegbunam was healthy.

And Okwuegbunam is healthy, unless things change like they did last year.

Three, there is no guarantee Missouri will get close to touching the 294 pass yards a game it logged over the past three years with Drew Lock calling the shots. Kelly Bryant, for all his obvious talent, still only averaged 200 pass yards a game in his one year starting at Clemson, remember.

Not exactly a gunslinger.

My projections have Missouri throwing for 3656 yards over 12 games this year unweighted and 3614 weighted. Which are both, ahem, extremely optimistic in my opinion. With a bowl, it would be 3935 yards unweighted and 3891 weighted.

So, to get to 883, Johnson would need to claim himself about 23 percent of the Tigers’ total pass yards. Over the past three years, his highest share against the FCS was 22.3, highest against Group of 5 was 20.2, highest against above-average Power 5 defenses was 22.9 (last year) and highest above below-average Power 5 defenses was 24.5 (also last year).

Double so, if Johnson plays all season this year like he did against Power-5 defenses last year — that means no slacking in blowouts against SEMO, Wyoming or Troy...just keep slingin! — and Missouri averages more than 300 passing yards a game, AND the Tigers make a bowl and the NCAA penalties get overturned, we could see a new record holder on our hands.

If Johnson ends up meeting my most optimistic projection head on, he ends up with 2,606 career yards, fourth on the all-time list between Chase Coffman and J’Mon Moore. Definitely nothing to sneeze at.

Here’s my work, if you’ve got a free three hours and have LITERALLY NOTHING BETTER TO DO: