It was shocking at first. Sort of stupefying, really. Duke Williams didn't make the Pre-Season Watch List for the nation's top pass catcher?
I'm pretty sure I've figured out the exact method for choosing the list and why Duke isn't on it. I don't necessarily agree with the method, but I applaud that they chose a specific plan for constructing the list and then stuck strictly to it.
Duke Williams' 2014 stats were not anything to garnish high praise at first glance. He ranks way down the list for yards per reception. He wasn't anything special in scoring with only five touchdowns. His total receiving yards weren't very great, either. He also missed two complete games and most of a third, which limited his stats.
I spent a good deal of time going through the stats on cfbstats.com (my go-to stats site, which I highly recommend) to examine just where Duke fit in among the other receivers in college football. We all know he wasn't that great on the number lines, but he was amazing as a clutch possession receiver and for making spectacular catches.
So Duke didn't excel in his stats last season. Who cares? He catches almost anything thrown his direction. NFL.com said that he and Pitt's Tyler Boyd are the top wide receivers NFL fans should watch in College Football for 2015. Interestingly enough, Tyler Boyd also did not make the Biletnikoff Watch List even though he was the 11th ranked wide receiver in terms of total receiving yards last season.
If Boyd, who finished 11th in total receiving yards wasn't on the Biletnikoff Watch List, then how are they chosen?
Well first a quick Google search gives a good reason for Boyd's lack of consideration. Boyd was arrested and formally charged with DUI last month and his status for Pitt's opening games of 2015 is in question. That could be a good reason for him not making the list, since being declared ineligible at certain times by the school is grounds for removal from consideration for the award.
I mentioned that Boyd was 11th in total receiving yards for 2014. What is very intriguing is that he is the only player among the returning top 48 pass catchers for 2015 in 2014 total receiving yards to not be on the Biletnikoff Watch List. There is one other player who did not graduate or leave early for the NFL who finished in the Top 48 of 2014's returning pass catchers by total yards. However, that is Illinois' Mike Dudek, who is isn't exactly "returning" for 2015. He will miss much, if not all, of the 2015 season with an ACL tear.
From what I've been able to determine, the Top 48 returning pass catchers (there's a running back in there, too) in terms of total receiving yards for 2014 make up the Biletnikoff Watch List minus the two players whose status for 2015 is uncertain. I'm not absolutely positive this is the method that was used, but it sure does line up very nicely.
Here's a handy little chart for you of the top 100 players in total receiving yards from 2014 so you can see for yourself. I have annotated their status to make it simple to see how I drew the above conclusion on the method for picking the watch list.
|1||Rashard Higgins, WR||1750||Biletnikoff List 1|
|2||Amari Cooper, WR||1727||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|3||Tyler Lockett, WR||1515||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|4||Justin Hardy, WR||1494||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|5||Vince Mayle, WR||1483||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|6||Kevin White, WR||1447||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|7||Corey Davis, WR||1408||Biletnikoff List 2|
|8||Rashad Greene, WR||1365||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|9||Nelson Agholor, WR||1313||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|10||Tajae Sharpe, WR||1281||Biletnikoff List 3|
|11||Tyler Boyd, WR||1261||DUI, Status/punishment Unknown|
|12||Keevan Lucas, WR||1219||Biletnikoff List 4|
|13||Tony Lippett, WR||1198||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|Nelson Spruce, WR||1198||Biletnikoff List 5|
|15||Jaelen Strong, WR||1165||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|16||Joshua McCain, WR||1162||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|17||Tommy Shuler, WR||1138||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|18||Pharoh Cooper, WR||1136||Biletnikoff List 6|
|19||Corey Coleman, RB||1119||Biletnikoff List 7|
|20||Josh Harper, WR||1097||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|21||William Fuller, WR||1094||Biletnikoff List 8|
|22||Roger Lewis, WR||1093||Biletnikoff List 9|
|23||Leonte Carroo, WR||1086||Biletnikoff List 10|
|24||Da'Ron Brown, WR||1065||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|25||Curry Sexton, WR||1059||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|26||John Harris, WR||1051||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|27||Jamison Crowder, WR||1044||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|Breshad Perriman, WR||1044||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|29||Mike Dudek, WR||1038||ACL Injury, will miss significant time|
|30||Mike Williams, WR||1030||Biletnikoff List 11|
|KD Cannon, WR||1030||Biletnikoff List 12|
|32||Antonio Vaughan, WR||1019||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|Cayleb Jones, WR||1019||Biletnikoff List 13|
|34||Josh Doctson, WR||1018||Biletnikoff List 14|
|35||Cam Worthy, WR||1016||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|36||Bud Sasser, WR||1003||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|Byron Marshall, RB||1003||Biletnikoff List 15|
|38||Daniel Braverman, WR||997||Biletnikoff List 16|
|39||Titus Davis, WR||980||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|Devonte Boyd, WR||980||Biletnikoff List 17|
|41||Isiah Myers, WR||972||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|42||Sterling Shepard, WR||970||Biletnikoff List 18|
|43||Artavis Scott, WR||965||Biletnikoff List 19|
|44||Jordan Payton, WR||954||Biletnikoff List 20|
|45||David Frazier, WR||949||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|46||Mario Alford, WR||945||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|47||Hunter Sharp, WR||939||Biletnikoff List 21|
|48||Jakeem Grant, WR||938||Biletnikoff List 22|
|49||Devin Smith, WR||931||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|50||Mitch Mathews, WR||922||Biletnikoff List 23|
|51||Teldrick Morgan, WR||903||Biletnikoff List 24|
|52||DaeSean Hamilton, WR||899||Biletnikoff List 25|
|53||Donovan Harden, WR||885||Biletnikoff List 26|
|54||Thomas Sperbeck, WR||877||Biletnikoff List 27|
|55||Rashon Ceaser, WR||872||Biletnikoff List 28|
|56||Phillip Dorsett, WR||871||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|57||Carlos Harris, WR||869||Biletnikoff List 29|
|58||Kenzee Jackson, WR||866||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|59||Ajalen Holley, WR||863||Biletnikoff List 30|
|60||DeVante Parker, WR||855||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|61||Corey Jones, WR||851||Biletnikoff List 31|
|62||Jordan Taylor, WR||842||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|Josh Reynolds, WR||842||Biletnikoff List 32|
|64||Deontay Greenberry, WR||841||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|65||Trent Taylor, WR||834||Biletnikoff List 33|
|66||Antwan Goodley, WR||830||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|Isaiah Jones, WR||830||Biletnikoff List 34|
|68||Jared Dangerfield, WR||825||Biletnikoff List 35|
|69||Bradley Marquez, WR||821||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|70||Demarcus Robinson, WR||810||Biletnikoff List 36|
|71||Jalen Robinette, WR||806||Biletnikoff List 37|
|72||Michael Thomas, WR||799||Biletnikoff List 38|
|73||Victor Bolden, WR||798||Biletnikoff List 39|
|74||Marcus Kemp, WR||797||Biletnikoff List 40|
|75||Stefon Diggs, WR||792||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|76||Kenny Bell, WR||788||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|77||Jordan Leslie, WR||779||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|78||Alex Erickson, WR||772||Biletnikoff List 41|
|79||Ron Willoughby, WR||771||Biletnikoff List 42|
|River Cracraft, WR||771||Biletnikoff List 43|
|81||Alonzo Russell, WR||770||Biletnikoff List 44|
|82||Taywan Taylor, WR||767||Biletnikoff List 45|
|83||Shaq Washington, WR||761||Biletnikoff List 46|
|84||Ryan Burbrink, WR||758||Biletnikoff List 47|
|Travin Dural, WR||758||Biletnikoff List 48|
|86||Ryan Switzer, WR||757|
|87||Kolby Listenbee, WR||753|
|Jordan Williams, WR||753|
|89||Geno Lewis, WR||751|
|90||Shavarez Smith, WR||748||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|91||Jordan Westerkamp, WR||747|
|92||Zach Pascal, WR||743|
|93||Sammie Coates, WR||741||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|94||Brandon Sheperd, WR||737|
|95||Devin Funchess, WR||733||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|96||Robert Davis, WR||732|
|97||Jalen Fitzpatrick, WR||730||Graduated/Left for NFL|
|D'haquille Williams, WR||730|
|99||Mekale McKay, WR||725|
|100||JuJu Smith, WR||724|
So exactly where does Duke fit in for those returning? He was 97th in total receiving yards for 2014. He is 57th on the list of returning players for 2015. The Biletnikoff Award Watch List selects 48 people, and using the metric of total receiving yards for 2014, Duke misses the cutoff by nine spots. He's close, but not quite there.
ForWhomTheCowbellTolls.com pointed out that Mississippi State's DeRunnya Wilson and Ole Miss' Laquon Treadwell were also surprisingly not on the Biletnikoff Award Watch List. Well, they were even lower than Duke Williams in total receiving yards for 2014. Wilson was 120th and Treadwell 140th. I'm sure Treadwell would have been higher, but he also missed four games during the 2014 campaign following his horrific ankle injury suffered against Auburn.
We could argue all day long whether this is a great metric to use. It seems strange to use only total receiving yards to build your Watch List from, but hey there's got to be a metric somewhere that you pick from. You have to have some sort of method to your madness.
I think I would have gone with an average of their position in stats such as yards/game (Duke was 50th last season) and total yards, or even used some of Bill Connelly's advanced stats from footballstudyhall.com, but this is what they appear to have chosen, and if you're trying to pick a certain number of players for a pre-season watch list that doesn't mean much in the long run since it's not set in stone, it works as well as anything else. Even if an average ranking of various statistical categories was used, Duke still may not be low enough to end up in the Top 48 and on the list.
I know some awards say that they pull their lists from players who received post-season accolades or pre-season accolades such as All-Conference Teams. The All-SEC team announced at the end of Media Days contains all three of the receivers mentioned above (along with Pharaoh Cooper, who did make the list). It was released after the Biletnikoff Award Watch List, however. Phil Steele's 2015 All-SEC team saw Duke and Laquon make 1st team and DeRunnya Wilson make 3rd.
It's Just Pre-Season
In the end, the Pre-Season Watch List won't matter. If Duke has the type of year we expect he can have as the feature receiver and with Jeremy Johnson throwing him the football, then he's going to put up the numbers that will get him on the list at some point. He may not make it to the semifinalist list given Auburn's run-heavy offensive philosophy, but I have a feeling he'll get some recognition along the way.
For Duke Williams, his stats and awards won't really matter. All that will matter is that he stays healthy, hopefully competes for a championship, and then moves on to being an almost certain 1st Round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
So why did I take all of this time to write this? To provide some form of explanation for Duke not being on the Watch List that Auburn fans can appreciate and understand. As I said back at the very beginning, agree with it or not, it's a method, it was adhered to strictly, and I can appreciate that. I may not agree, but I now see (or at least suspect that I see) the reason behind it.
So what do y'all think?