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Albert Okwuegbunam is back at Missouri. What kind of year can we expect out of him?

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A bit of a dive into the potential of the Tigers’ #TightEndPassGame signal-bearer for 2019

NCAA Football: Memphis at Missouri
Albert Okwuegbunam’s 2018 season ended after nine games. What would a 12- or 13-game junior season look like for him in 2019?
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

I had so much fun trying to project out Johnathon Johnson’s 2019 season that I decided to circle back to the pseudoscience umbrella I’ve propped up and apply it to something that truly hits near and dear to my heart:

#TightEndPassGame.

Missouri’s leader in this proud tradition for 2019 will likely be Albert Okwuegbunam, as he was in 2017-18 as well.

You likely know that Okwuegbunam put together 43 catches for 466 yards and six touchdowns on 60 targets last season. You also likely know that he was on pace for 62 catches, 673 yards and nine touchdowns on 87 targets last year before a broken scapula suffered while blocking against Florida cravenly stole the final four games out from under him.

Pity, that.

But now he’s back for 2019. And we’re here to try and see what kind of season he can put together for the Tigers.

To do that, we need to consider some things.

1) How many passing yards will Missouri get this year?

In the Johnson post, looking at the Tigers’ upcoming pass defenses and how they’ve behaved against certain classes of defense in the Barry Odom era, I came to an estimate of 3656 yards over 12 games and 3935 over 13.

I think those estimates are kind of high, since Kelly Bryant is probably not a stat-sheet-stuffing passer like Drew Lock was, but let’s go with them anyway.

2) What percentage of the pass game will belong to the tight ends?

Over the past three seasons, tight ends have averaged 19.4 percent of the targets, 21 percent of the catches, 17.7 percent of the yards and 29.9 percent of the touchdowns in the Tigers’ offense.

That ranges from highs of 23.5 percent of targets, 26 percent of catches and 20 percent of yards in 2018 to lows of 16.3, 16.2 and 17.1 in 2017.

Remember, also, that in Bryant’s one year as a starter at Clemson, tight ends made up only 9 percent of the team’s catches and 10 percent of its pass yards. So throwing to the tight end isn’t necessarily second nature to him, although different offenses call for different plays to go to different personnel a different percentage of the time blah blah blah.

3) What do the returning receivers have to say about all this?

Again, from 2016 through 2018, the percentage of returning production from the Tigers’ wide receivers has actually had a meaningful impact on the rate of production for the team’s tight ends.

In 2018, for instance, Missouri only returned about 54-59 percent of its receiver production, across the board. And the tight ends flourished. In 2017, it returned about 78-86 percent across the board, and the tight ends languished.

This year, the Tigers are set to return about 63-71 percent of their receiver production across the board. It’s actually a fairly analogous situation to 2016, when they returned about 65-70 percent in targets, catches and yards (not counting a touchdown percentage anomaly) for their wideouts while also returning their top tight end in Sean Culkin.

4) How much of the pie does the top tight end generally take?

Over the past three years, Missouri’s top tight end has accounted for 54.7 percent of all tight end targets, 58.9 percent of catches, 58.7 percent of yards and 58.6 percent of touchdowns.

Over the past two years, with Okwuegbunam in charge, those numbers have ticked up to 58, 63.7, 62.3 and 70.8.

Not counting the games he missed last year, the percentages are 63.8, 71.3, 67.5 and 77.3.

Given all of those things, I’ve got three different sets of predictions for how #TightEndPassGame as a whole and Okwuegbunam, personally, will do this year:

2016-18 Model
12 games
Tight Ends: 82 targets, 52 catches, 664 yards, 10 TD
Okwuegbunam: 45 targets, 31 catches, 390 yards, 6 TD

13 games
Tight Ends: 89 targets, 56 catches, 714 yards, 11 TD
Okwuegbunam: 49 targets, 33 catches, 419 yards, 6 TD

———

2017-18 Model
12 games
Tight Ends: 82 targets, 52 catches, 664 yards, 10 TD
Okwuegbunam: 48 targets, 33 catches, 413 yards, 7 TD

13 games
Tight Ends: 89 targets, 56 catches, 714 yards, 11 TD
Okwuegbunam: 51 targets, 36 catches, 445 yards, 8 TD

———

2017-18 Okwuegbunam Games Played Model
12 games
Tight Ends: 82 targets, 52 catches, 664 yards, 10 TD
Okwuegbunam: 53 targets, 37 catches, 448 yards, 8 TD

13 games
Tight Ends: 89 targets, 56 catches, 714 yards, 11 TD
Okwuegbunam: 57 targets, 40 catches, 482 yards, 8 TD

So, basically, from 31-390-6 at the bottom end to 40-482-8 at the top.

I think that’s pretty fair. Last year’s fantastic first nine games were a bit of a happy confluence of Derek Dooley harnessing Okwuegbunam’s power, teams not planning for him and the team’s other top option (Emanuel Hall) being in and out for big parts of five or six of those games.

With a resurgent Johnathon Johnson and probably more trust in tertiary options like Jalen Knox and Kam Scott, you’d expect to see Okwuegbunam’s numbers come back to earth a little bit this year.

Or maybe I’m completely wrong and he’ll be a 1,000-yard receiver. I wouldn’t be mad at it.

Here’s the work, if you wanted to take a peek: