Fun with college football stats: Michael Crabtree, Marqise Lee the best first down wide receivers

Robert Laberge

If you had to pick a wide receiver to throw the football to on first down, who would it be?

Conventional wisdom says that running the football on first down successfully is always the thing you should be doing. The Big Ten has taken that strategy to heart and put it in their football bible, "Ground and Pound and Punt", written by Kirk Ferentz.

Enter the new era of college football, where it's all about getting that football out into the open. First down passing has become all the rage. Getting that ball out and early has become more crucial, particularly with offenses recognizing that a high percentage completed pass has about the same utility as a standard run up the middle.

Here are some notable aspects of these players, based on data from the indispensable

  • The Airraid offense dominates this list. Multiple representatives from Texas Tech, West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State are all a part of this list.
  • At least a third of these wide receivers are in the NFL right now, many of whom are either primary or secondary receiving options in their offenses.
  • The University of Hawaii has more representatives in the top 30 than the state of Hawaii. The run and shoot lives on in the far away isles.
  • Lane Kiffin had the most explosive first down wide receiver of the past six years and went 7-6.

Here's the list! Highest numbers are in bold.

Player Team Year Catches Yards TDs Comments

Michael Crabtree Texas Tech 2007 68 999 12 Crabtree had a spectacular freshman campaign and was released early and often on first down to terrorize Big 12 defenses.

Marquise Lee USC 2012 66 1046 9 Lee was the most explosive of all the wide receivers on this list, notching big play after big play and turbocharging USC's offense.

Ryan Broyles Oklahoma 2010 64 774 8 Broyles was the number one threat for Landry Jones in Oklahoma's Big 12 title run.

Jordan White Western Michigan 2011 63 894 6 White set FBS records this year in receptions and receiving yards.

Kendall Wright Baylor 2011 61 778 4 Wright was RGIII's main target during his quarterback's Heisman campaign.

James Casey Rice 2008 59 683 7 Rice won ten football games this year.

Greg Salas Hawaii 2009 58 881 3 Hawaii's offense is set in a recursive loop of passing.

Jordy Nelson Kansas State 2007 58 805 4 Bill Snyder moved Nelson from defensive back to wide receiver because Bill Snyder is a wizard with exceptional vision.

Robert Woods USC 2011 56 622 8 Woods was pretty exceptional too when Lane Kiffin decided to throw the ball too much to him on 1st down last year.

Justin Blackmon Oklahoma State 2010 56 896 8 Blackmon was ranked the 91st best recruit in the country by Rivals in 2008. No, not nationally. At the wide receiver position.

Danny Amendola Texas Tech 2007 56 601 3 Crabtree before Crabtree.

Tavon Austin West Virginia 2012 54 599 5 Austin got most of the pub for WVU, but he was probably the second most important Mountaineer WR last year.

Justin Blackmon Oklahoma State 2011 54 636 1 Blackmon received four offers in college.

Greg Salas Hawaii 2010 54 953 6 Hawaiians believe passing a football is like riding the gnarliest wave bro.

Mohamed Sanu Rutgers 2011 53 570 2 Sanu was an impressive first man option at Rutgers.


Golden Tate Notre Dame 2009 53 930 9 Charlie Weis lost to UConn with Tate putting up these numbers.

Freddie Barnes Bowling Green 2009 53 724 8 Barnes set records for receptions and receiving yards.

Michael Crabtree Texas Tech 2008 53 673 11 Crabtree's senior Heisman campaign wasn't quite so good, but Tech was a more complete team and came close to a title berth

Cobi Hamilton Arkansas 2012 52 777 2 Arkansas's offense last year was Cobi Hamilton doing something awesome, or dead zone.

Quinton Patton Louisiana Tech 2012 52 708 7 Patton was unleashed in Sonny Dykes's system last year, including an incredible 22 catch, 4 TD game against A&M

Tyron Carrier Houston 2011 52 554 4 Houston rocked it up and took it a little later.


Eric Page Toledo 2011 52 476 2 Toledo wut


Ryan Grice-Mullen Hawaii 2007 52 767 5 True story: Hawaii has never ever run the football. Look it up in a book, preferably the Farmer's Almanac


Stedman Bailey West Virginia 2012 51 788 10 Austin got more catches, but it was Bailey who was the more explosive option in Holgorsen's mad raid.


Jordan Shipley Texas 2009 51 742 3 Shipley was the engine that kept Texas steering through the toughest parts of an undefeated regular season


Quan Cosby Texas 2008 51 547 4 Remember when Texas could throw 50 receptions to one plus guy? Dark times.


Josh Stewart Oklahoma State 2012 50 640 3 Airraid don't stop for no one.


Austin Collie BYU 2008 50 658 6 Should've been the first sign that Collie would be a willing weapon for an NFL offense when he could be remarkable with the Cougars


Jamarko Simmons Western Michigan 2008 50 634 4 I imagine none of you picked Western Michigan as a team that would make this list twice. Never underestimtae MACtion



Look through SB Nation's many excellent college football blogs to find your team's community.

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