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Should Texas Tech be considered Wide Receiver U?

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Water is wet. Sky is blue. ESPN writes an article that is complete garbage.

There I was, enjoying a casual Tuesday night relaxing with my wife and son while we watch Disney Pixar’s Coco for the 18-millionth time, when I logged on the Twitter machine and saw an article, originally tweeted out by Adam Rittenberg at ESPN that he was SUPER proud of and wanted to make sure he shared with the world, come across my Timeline. (The original tweet is now deleted, presumably because Rittenberg cant take the criticism on an article he helped write less than 24 hours after it was published).

The articles purpose, sourced from the last sentence of the introduction, is to rank the programs that are the “best at recruiting and developing elite talent and then shipping them off to stardom in the NFL”.

Upon reading the article, aspects of the proposed formula used to rank programs are pretty fair. ESPN Stats & Information limited the debate to BCS and CFP era players, which would extend to all players from 1998 through last season and weighed All-American nods over all-conference nods (which, in the article, they show their own bias by outright saying they ranked All-America nods over any All-SEC nod, but I digress).

Where the formula gets murky is the last criteria, in which the authors try to determine player’s performance at the next level, they utilized what is called Approximate Value over the player’s first four seasons (or fewer) in the NFL. They move on, without defining what Approximate Value is, and never explain the details of why they limit it to the first four seasons, rather than utilize career production.

As a Texas Tech fan, with very few All-American or even All-Conference selections at any position, you still feel pretty good with the caveat of production at the professional level, especially when it comes to the Wide Receiver position. A program that can lay claim to names such as Wes Welker, Danny Amendola and Michael Crabtree, has to be considered one of the top 10 best programs at producing talent at the wideout, right?

Right?

Wrong.

I submit to you, the list of programs who ESPN Ranks ahead of Texas Tech, when it comes to producing talent at the Wide Receiver position:

And, it is at this point, I pour myself a strong glass of Buffalo Trace bourbon (no free ads) and offer my Hot Take.

This list is, as the kids like to call it, “absolute trash”.

First and foremost, it is incredibly difficult to argue against their picks for number one and number two on this list. Like it or not, USC and Ohio State has produced many of the athletes we see at the wide receiver position making plays on Sundays, and usually are able to produce several Heisman candidates at this position, a truly rare feat in college football. Give credit where credit is due.

Where the list takes a turn from “respectable” and hangs a right into Oscar the Grouch’s house is at number three. Florida State’s notable players including Rashad Greene and Kelvin Benjamin, who currently do not have teams after spending just a few seasons in the NFL and, in the case of Benjamin, is largely considered a biscuit away from being an Offensive lineman than a Wide Receiver. Oklahoma State’s notable players include a Wide receiver who spent more time suspended from the NFL than actually in the NFL, and the three Michigan players consist of two incredibly unknowns and one wideout who only had one Pro Bowl selection in 10 seasons.

If NFL production is truly being considered, even when it is questionably somehow limited to the first four seasons of a career (like, for real?), ranking Florida State above programs like LSU, Alabama and not including programs like Texas Tech is not just wrong, it is flat out stupid. And the fact ESPN pans this out to their audience of millions as content deemed worthy of their time, well, that’s just cruel.

Let me clear up my issue on this list. I am not here to argue that production at the college level shouldn’t be heavily favored in a formula to define a list of the best college football programs for each position. In fact, if that were the case, an omission of Texas Tech is extremely fair. However, ESPN left themselves wide open for criticism of this list when they set rules and variables in a formula that they didn’t even actually follow.

With the caveat of factoring in production at the next level, this should open the door for you to at the very least consider Texas Tech as a top-10 program at, the bare minimum, Wide receiver. The résumé for Texas Tech at wide receiver speaks for itself.

The programs most notable product, Michael Crabtree, was a two-time Biletnikoff Award winner (you know, that award given to the absolute best wide receiver in college football?), two-time All-American selection and two-time first team All-Big 12 selection during his time in college. Crabtree was selected in the first round by the San Francisco 49ers, where he played for until 2014 and even was feature in the offense in a Super Bowl. He then played two seasons in Oakland and spent last season in Baltimore when he was released after a 10 year career that saw him rack up 633 receptions for 7,477 yards and 54 touchdowns. Oh, and a whole bunch of money.

The next famous Texas Tech wideout product would have to be one Wes Welker. Welker is a five-time Pro Bowler, two-time All Pro first teamer, two-time All Pro second teamer, three-time NFL reception leader and holds the record for the only 99-yard reception in NFL history. Welker played 12 years in the NFL, which saw Welker make three trips to the Super Bowl. Welker finished his NFL career with 903 career receptions for 9,924 yards and 50 touchdowns.

So, yeah…Welker had moderate success, you could say.

Texas Tech also produced Danny Amendola, who is a current NFL wideout with the Detroit Lions. Danny’s college career saw only one All-Big 12 second team selection, however, he was signed by the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent. Amendola’s career took off after he was signed by the New England Patriots in 2013 just mere hours after Wes Welker opted to sign with the Denver Broncos and not return to New England. Amendola went on to be a two-time Super Bowl champion in New England and even earned the nickname “Danny Playoff” for his strong postseason performances. In 2019, Danny signed with the Detroit Lions and currently has a ten-year NFL career with 485 receptions for 4,684 yards and 20 touchdowns. He, too, has made a whole bunch of money.

Getty Images

You want more evidence? Texas Tech’s production at the wide receiver position doesn’t just stop there. Keke Coutee, drafted in the 4thround in 2018, is considered to be a threat to earn the starting slot receiver role for the Houston Texans this season. Taken in the 6th round in 2016, Jakeem Grant has single handedly made special teams for the Miami Dolphins interesting to watch. Derrick Willies, Cameron Batson and Dylan Cantrell are also currently active and on NFL rosters after signing as undrafted free agents one year ago. To dive even further in this hypothetical pool, Texas Tech can lay claim to Carlos Francis, Joel Filani, Jarrett Hicks, Detron Lewis, Lyle Leong, who all found themselves developed and talented enough to spend time in the NFL. They didn’t get there by chance. They got there from hard work, determination and a system at Texas Tech that showed off their ability to play receiver at the next level.

Obviously, Texas Tech’s lack of success on the field is a hindrance to its ability to be recognized on lists like this one. It’s no coincidence that all the programs listed and ranked by ESPN are considered perennial “blue blood” programs and traditionally successful college football programs, those are typically the ones who end up with the All-America and All-Conference Selections, whether or not they are truly deserved. That’s no surprise.

The issue with the list is that the production at the next level is, for some unexplained reason, limited at whatever the player could produce in the first four seasons, which is an incredibly weird line in the proverbial sand to draw. Either you factor the overall NFL production of players from each program and define the weight of it in the formula (the common sense way to do things), or you don’t factor any of it and base the rankings on College production alone (again, another use of common sense).

Limiting the variable to the first four seasons doesn’t fully allow overall production in the NFL, or any significance “stardom”, to truly factor in as a weight, which in turn, doesn’t allow the rankings accomplish its stated purpose: to rank the programs on their ability to recruit and develop elite talent at a certain position and shipping it off to “stardom” in the NFL.

And for the wide receiver position, a clear case can be made that Texas Tech has a history of doing that just about as well as any other program in the country.