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A Ty Fryfogle Appreciation Post and a look at the past and the future of Indiana’s wide receivers

May 05, 2023

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Fryfogle's best was arguably better than any other IU receiver's best in the last decade

On Tuesday, Indiana wide receiver Ty Fryfogle was named the Big Ten's Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year, becoming the Hoosiers's first-ever honoree since the award was founded in 2011. It marked a capstone achievement for one of the more meteoric rises in an individual career arc for a Hoosier player.

Fryfogle will finish the regular season with 34 catches, 687 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, but the bulk of his production this season, and for what he’ll be remembered by Indiana fans, comes down to three games.

Against No. 23 Michigan, Michigan State and No. 3 Ohio State, Fryfogle had 25 receptions, 560 receiving yards and six touchdowns, which makes up roughly 75 to 85 percent of his 2020 regular-season production and a third of his career receiving yards:

Catches: 73.5% of his 2020 regular-season stats/22.9% of his career statsReceiving yards: 81.5% of 2020 regular-season stats/33.2% of career statsTouchdowns: 85.7% of 2020 regular-season stats/46.2% of career stats

Entering bowl season of his senior year, Fryfogle's career numbers through 40 games (there were eight games in which he didn't record a reception) include 109 receptions, 1,685 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns, or in other words, roughly Larry Fitzgerald's 2003 season at Pitt that should’ve won him the Heisman.

It's the fact that Fryfogle essentially turned into the most productive wide receiver in the country in Games No. 36, 37 and 38 of his career – after averaging 2.3 catches, 30.9 yards and 0.20 touchdowns per game through his first 35 career games – that makes his career arc so fascinating and his senior season so remarkable.

Before the Indiana-Michigan game this season, Fryfogle only had one 100-yard receiving game in his career (and in fact, only one game with more than 75 receiving yards) – a five-catch, 131-yard, one-touchdown performance at Penn State last November, which was the only evidence to date that he might be capable of turning into an explosive No. 2 receiving option, let alone Indiana's top receiving threat.

While Fantasy Football Brain can be an illness, if we put Fryfogle's production in fantasy football terms with standard PPR scoring – one point per reception, 0.1 point per receiving yard and six points per touchdown – in order to further contextualize his breakout senior year, Fryfogle averaged roughly 9.5 fantasy points per game as a junior with a total of 123.4 fantasy points on the season. Then he put up single-game fantasy point totals of 27.2, 43.0 and 46.8 against the Wolverines, Spartans and Buckeyes, respectively, in consecutive weeks this fall.

That's 117 hypothetical fantasy points in a three-week stretch, just six shy of his total for all of last season.

In order to show just how unusual it is for a player to peak this late in his career, Crimson Quarry analyzed 10 of the top Indiana wide receivers over the last decade: Fryfogle, Whop Philyor, Nick Westbrook, Simmie Cobbs, Luke Timian, Ricky Jones Jr., Mitchell Paige, Shane Wynn, Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes. We compiled rolling, six-game averages – including games in which a player appeared in the game but didn't record any receiving stats – in order to show when Indiana's wide receivers have typically come into their own over the last decade. For example, a wide receiver's rolling, six-game average for Week 13 of the college football season would include Weeks 8 through 13, or whatever the six most recent games in which a player appeared.

Fryfogle played with a healthy Michael Penix Jr. for almost six games this season, and given that six games is half of a normal regular season, it's an easily digestible length of time.

Fryfogle is responsible for the highest rolling, six-game receiving-yards average among the players analyzed with an average of 117.5 receiving yards per game over a six-game stretch from the Gator Bowl through the Ohio State game – a stretch that just outpaced Simmie Cobbs (115.7 yards/game from Week 11 in 2015 through Week 2 in 2017) and Cody Latimer (112.3 yards/game from Week 4 in 2013 through Week 10).

Fryfogle's peak was also at the latest point in any of the college careers we examined, as shown in the graph below.

Former Indiana receiver Ricky Jones Jr. reached his highest rolling, six-game average in game No. 37 of his career, just one game before Fryfogle in his career timeline, but Jones had also proven himself earlier in his career. Jones had posted a rolling, six-game average of 84.2 receiving yards per game in his 23rd game and his rolling averages were consistently between 50 and 80 yards per game for much of his career. Through the first 23 games of Fryfogle's career, his best rolling, six-game average was 46.2 receiving yards per game, and more often during that stretch, his rolling average was between 20 and 35 yards per game.

The following table outlines the best rolling, six-game averages for the 10 receivers that we examined, as well as when each receiver reached his peak.

CQ's analysis found that rolling averages for Indiana's top receivers in the last decade started to take a leap after the first 10 to 12 games of their careers. To oversimplify things, this means that a top wide receiver at Indiana, historically, will begin to average something like 30 to 60 receiving yards per game early in his sophomore season, after averaging maybe five to 20 yards per game early on in his career.

Now, there are a few exceptions. After Whop Philyor's 10th game, he was averaging roughly 50 receiving yards per game over his previous six games. After Cody Latimer's 12th game, he was averaging roughly 60 yards per game over his previous six outings.

But Fryfogle's trajectory is more of the norm. After his 10th college game, he had a rolling, six-game receiving-yards average of 5.5 yards per game. His rolling average was 11.5 yards per game after his 12th game.

We found that an Indiana wide receiver will likely reach his peak between 20 and 30 games into his college career, and most often between Game 25 and Game 30. On average, among the 10 receivers examined, their highest rolling, six-game receiving-yards averages came 28.3 games into their college careers, so Fryfogle's peak in Game 38 was roughly 10 games, or nearly the equivalent of a full regular season, later in his career than the average for his position group.

Nick Westbrook peaked the earliest among the receivers examined with a career-best, rolling, six-game average of 82.2 receiving yards per game through the 20th game of his career. Former walk-on turned reliable slot receiver Mitchell Paige peaked in his 21st game, when his rolling average climbed to 74.8 yards per game.

But it's roughly in the middle of a wide receiver's third season, whether it's as a true junior or a redshirt sophomore, when he typically peaks at Indiana:

At risk of once again using fantasy football scoring as a crutch, it can be something of a useful measuring stick to quantify the overall production of Indiana's wide receivers. It both takes into account receptions, yards and touchdowns, and it's also a scoring system that most football fans can understand and contextualize.

Again, the following data uses traditional PPR scoring.

Fryfogle is responsible for the second-best individual rolling, six-game average in fantasy points among the 10 receivers examined. On average, the 10 receivers peaked 29.7 games into their college careers, so a little bit later than our analysis of receiving yards, but still at a very similar time in their careers.

It's also worth noting the bad injury luck that Indiana has had with the group of receivers we examined:

The games in which Cobbs and Westbrook suffered their injuries were not included in this analysis, by the way.

With Indiana's top two receivers this season being seniors Fryfogle and Philyor – who could both theoretically return to school if they really wanted to, since the 2020 season doesn't count against players’ eligibility or their five-year eligibility clocks – we can also use the stats above to project forward for IU's underclassmen receivers in a post-Fryfogle/Philyor world. If Fryfogle and Philyor both say goodbye to Bloomington, which is probably more likely than not to happen but it's certainly not guaranteed, the encouraging news for Indiana is that redshirt sophomore Miles Marshall is on a trajectory that fits the criteria outlined above for a top wide receiver at Indiana, as his production started to increase between his 10th and 12th game of college. He's also arguably outpacing the production that Fryfogle put up at the same point in his career.

After acknowledging that David Ellis has spent time at both running back and wide receiver in his young career, he, too, saw a spike in his rolling, six-game receiving-yards average around that Game 10-to-Game 12 mark in his career. Ellis's future could go in several different directions, positionally. He could be a big part of the future of Indiana's slot receiver position after Philyor's time is done in Bloomington, or he could carve out a more permanent role as a change-of-pace/third-down back behind Stevie Scott III. Or maybe the most likely outcome is sort a hybrid role, as he has shown in spurts this season.

While it's too soon to predict the players that redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jacolby Hewitt and true freshmen Javon Swinton will become, if they’re asked to become Indiana's No. 2 and No. 3 wide receivers next year, both players could kick into second gear in October or November of next season, if they follow a similar path in their development and start to find their rhythms 10 or 12 games into their college careers.

The player who has arguably been affected the most by Fryfogle's breakout senior season has been standout tight end Peyton Hendershot, who has seen his production fall from 2019. Hendershot finished second on the team last season in catches (52) and receiving yards (622), and he's now fourth in receiving with 151 yards.

His yards-per-catch average is just 6.6 yards, but he still found his way onto the All-Big Ten Third Team.

Outside of a six-catch, 34-yard, two-score game against Rutgers that marked his season-highs in all three categories, Hendershot has gotten a bit lost in the shuffle amidst Fryfogle blossoming and Indiana's greener wide receivers proving to be promising in small doses.

Here's where Indiana's top seven receivers stand in their careers, as Fryfogle's peak this season produced even more receiving yards than Philyor's peak last season, and as Marshall has already matched Hendershot's highest levels of sustained production in terms of receiving yards.

Florida State transfer D.J. Matthews, who had 84 catches, 809 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 32 game with the Seminoles, will factor into the future of Indiana's receiving corps, too.

One of the silver linings of the 2020 college football season is that, from an eligibility perspective, it doesn't count against players. If Indiana's players, part of a squad ranked No. 7 in the latest AP Top 25 poll and No. 11 in the most recent CFP rankings, want to run it back, they can do so.

The Hoosiers had All-Big Ten First, Second or Third Team selections at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end, and that doesn't even include Philyor, who was an honorable mention choice. If even one of Fryfogle or Philyor return to Bloomington, along with a healthy Michael Penix Jr. – let alone Indiana fans’ pipe dream that both receivers could come back – then Indiana fans can only imagine what the Hoosiers's offense would look like with Penix, Fryfogle and/or Philyor, Marshall and Hendershot operating together for another fall, with Matthews, Hewitt and Swinton filling in the gaps – the urgency of which would increase if Fryfogle and Philyor bid farewell in the offseason.

But the reason why Indiana could lose so much production at wide receiver is largely because of the player that Ty Fryfogle became in Games 36, 37 and 38 of his career, after largely being Just Another Guy for his first 35 games. Fryfogle's production bucked the trend of what a player supposedly can or can't become after the first three years of his career, and for proof, you only have to look at the way that Fryfogle's peaks in the graphs above eclipsed those of Indiana's best receiver entering the season (Whop Philyor) and its fourth-highest NFL draft pick ever at the position since the AFL-NFL merger (Cody Latimer).

Share Catches: Receiving yards: Touchdowns: