Image via AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
The Sooners’ Dede Westbrook has been named a finalist for this year’s Biletnikoff Award. I don’t think this comes to the surprise of many as Westbrook has had one of the best seasons ever by an Oklahoma wide receiver — and still has couple of games left. If you aren’t familiar with the award, allow me to sum it up for you real fast. The Biletnikoff Award is still relatively new, created in 1994 by the Tallahassee Quarterback Club Foundation, Inc. Each season it is awarded to the “most outstanding receiver” in the nation. Previous winners include: Randy Moss, Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper.
Before I get to Westbrook, let’s take a look at his fellow finalists: Austin Carr and Isaiah “Zay” Jones.
Austin Carr, Northwestern – Carr is a former walk-on running back now turned wide receiver who as of now has 80 receptions for 1170 yards and 12 touchdowns on season. It is unclear right now if he will be available for this weekend’s matchup with Illinois after leaving last week’s game with an injury. If not, Carr ties Northwestern’s single season touchdown record at 12. Carr does not have the yards of Zay Jones or the touchdowns of Dede Westbrook, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been any less impressive. For example, we’ll look at what Carr has done against Top 10 opponents:
- October 29th against Ohio State: 8 receptions, 158 yards.
- November 5th against Wisconsin: 12 receptions for 132 yards and a touchdown.
Additionally, he had 8 receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown against 20th ranked Nebraska. Point being, this guy has not only shown up but shown up big against some Big 10’s best. By far, he has the best résumé out of the three finalists in terms of the level of competition he’s faced. He is a real testament to the saying “hard work pays off” and certainly deserving of being selected a finalist.
Zay Jones, East Carolina – Jones’ stats this season are staggering, to say the least. As of today, Jones leads the NCAA in four categories: receptions, receptions per game, receiving yards, receiving yards per game. Those numbers would be 151 receptions for 1685 yards and you can throw in 8 receiving touchdowns. Oh, and he became the NCAA’s all-time receptions leader. Zay benefits from the pass-happy system that Lincoln Riley left behind when he took the job in Norman. Side note, I thought this was very interesting:
— Eric Bailey (@EricBaileyTW) November 21, 2016
Jones has the opportunity to distance himself from his fellow finalists this week, however he is going up against a Temple teams that ranks 2nd in passing defense only giving up 142.4 yards per game. Bad match up, right? Wrong. No better way to make a statement to voters than to carve up one of college football’s best passing defenses to end the season (eh, at least on paper).
Jones has something else going from him, however. We have to go back a couple years ago to another ECU wide receiver, Justin Hardy. In case you don’t remember, Justin Hardy (another Lincoln Riley product) was the one who broke Ryan Broyles’ FBS record for career receptions. His 2014 campaign consisted of an impressive 121 receptions for 1494 yards and 10 touchdowns; however was snubbed from becoming a finalist for the award. Instead, West Virginia’s Kevin White was selected over Hardy, with 109 receptions, 1447 yards and 10 touchdowns. This was widely discussed; those around ECU program certainly felt the school and it’s record setting senior deserved more respect. 2 years later, I highly doubt ECU has forgotten what happened with to them and Hardy. While I doubt coaches come out and say it, they know they can make a statement for Jones on Saturday.
Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma
First off, nobody could have predicted what Dede Westbrook has done this season. His development from last season to this season has been nothing short of phenomenal. Had he been healthy at the beginning of the season, there is a real possibility Oklahoma is a one loss team or better.
So, how has Westbrook stacked up against the other great Oklahoma receivers? Here is the short list of the best seasons by an Oklahoma wide receiver:
- 2010, Ryan Broyles: 131 receptions, 1622 yards and 14 touchdowns.
- 2003, Mark Clayton: 83 receptions, 1425 yards and 15 touchdowns.
- 2016, Dede Westbrook: 70 receptions, 1354 yards and 15 touchdowns.
- 2015, Sterling Shepard: 86 receptions, 1288 yards and 11 touchdowns.
- 2011, Ryan Broyles: 83 receptions, 1157 yards and 10 touchdowns.
- 2008, Juaquin Iglesias: 74 receptions, 1150 yards and 10 touchdowns.
* If it isn’t obvious, Westbrook can move into second with just 72 yards against Oklahoma State
These numbers are exciting among Sooners fans, but Oklahoma has never had a Biletnikoff winner. The closest the program has gotten was in 2010 with Ryan Broyles, who lost out to Oklahoma State’s, Justin Blackmon. So, how does Dede Westbrook separate himself for a guy like Zay Jones who has 331 more yards than him? Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency.
Westbrook has less than half the receptions of Jones, however only sits back a few hundred yards. At the same time, Westbrook has nearly twice as many receiving touchdowns as Jones. However, that isn’t the most telling stat. Westbrook currently sits 13th in nationally in terms of average yards per reception. For comparison Northwestern’s, Austin Carr ranks at 126th and ECU’s, Zay Jones comes in at 324th. Why is this important? If you look at previous winners (or losers) voters have taken into account volume, or lack there of. Totals are great but at some point, it appears that how you get there is carries a lot of weight.
Westbrook also benefits from being the only finalist on a winning team. A team competing for both a conference championship and spot in the college football playoff. A team by the way, that without Westbrook, would not be competing for either. It is really that simple. Now, that isn’t to say either Carr or Jones can’t win. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Carr — despite his numbers — win it with what he’s been able to do against some of the better teams in the nation. However, with the numbers Westbrook has been able to put up and how his performance has transformed a 1-2 team to a potential playoff team, there is no question he is nation’s best.