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Comparing James Washington to Justin Blackmon by the Numbers



Mason Rudolph and James Washington got the Cowboys’ offseason rolling before it had even started. Prior to their dismantling of Colorado’s defense in the Alamo Bowl, the duo made a quick 20-second video announcing their summer plans, which did not include the NFL Draft but did include offseason workouts in Stillwater. Oklahoma State was automatically a Big 12 contender for 2017.

While OSU has launched a not-so-cryptic Heisman campaign for their record-setting quarterback, James Washington may be the most underrated player in college football. He’s also among the most underrated Cowboy receivers of all time.

At Big 12 Media Days, Mike Gundy was asked about his returning senior and where he ranks among the greats.

“James Washington is up there with the Dez Bryants and the [Justin] Blackmons and the Rashaun Woods,” said Gundy. “The guys that have been terrific football players.

“I think James is just scratching the surface.”

So how does Washington compare to those great OSU receivers? Let’s take a look.

James Washington leads all active Power 5 receivers with 26 career touchdowns and 2,923 receiving yards. His career average of 19.2 yards per reception is the best in OSU history and highest in the Big 12 since Quincy Morgan was lighting it up at Kansas State nearly 20 years ago.

We all want the 2017 team to follow the course of 2011. Whispered “what if’s” have become press conference comparisons made by “Big Daddy” himself.

If you’re looking to compare OSU’s current go-to deep threat to one of his predecessors, Blackmon is the best option. A better sample size than Dez — Blackmon played 38 games at OSU and Washington has played 39 — and the offenses are more comparable than those Rashuan Woods or Hart Lee Dykes played in. (How impressive does that make Rashaun’s numbers?!)

So how does the No. 1 target of the 2017 offense compare to 2011’s?

Both statistically and with the eye test, Blackmon is as dominant a receiver as we’ve seen. His 2010 and 2011 Biletnikoff seasons are tide marks for pass catchers in orange. He boasts the No. 1 and No. 3 highest receiving-yard seasons at Oklahoma State. Nos. 1 and 2 in receptions in a season. Nos. 1 and 3 in receiving touchdowns.

Blackmon racked up 3,564 yards during his career, sitting behind only Rashaun Woods, the Cowboys’ all-time leader (4,414 yards). If No. 81 would have stuck around for his senior season, there is little doubt he would have claimed that crown too.

So far, James Washington sits at 2,923 career receiving yards which is fourth all-time behind Hart Lee Dykes, Blackmon and Woods. In his fourth year, he has a chance to claim the all-time crown from Woods. Anything less than second place would be a disappointment. He could have 600 yards before October.

When comparing the two, efficiency is key. Each was/is historically efficient. They just went about it in a different way.

Let’s remember that while the two played in “more comparable” offenses, the current incarnation has not reached Weeden-to-Blackmon heights. If 2017 is to be the new 2011, how do 2010 and 2016 stack up?

Year Points Per Drive Rank Points Avg Passing Yards Passer Rating
2010 2.96 13 44.2 4496 155.17
2016 2.89 17 38.6 4211 158.37

Not too far off. Will 2017’s team take the same type of step forward that 2011’s did? If so, Washington will be a huge part of it.

Here’s a look at the two receivers during their sophomore and junior seasons — when they were the primary target in each offense.

Justin Blackmon Targets Catches Catch Rate Yards YDs Per Catch YDs Per Target TDs
2010 148 111 75.0% 1522 12.6 12.0 18
2011 160 121 75.6% 1782 16.0 9.5 20


James Washington Targets Catches Catch Rate Yards YDs Per Catch YDs Per Target TDs
2015 103 53 51.5% 1087 20.5 9.5 10
2016 131 71 54.2% 1380 19.4 10.4 10

In 2010, Blackmon accounted for 31 percent of Oklahoma State’s total receptions. In 2011, he caught 28.3 percent of the teams completed passes.

On the other end, Washington has never (!) led his team in receptions for a season. David Glidden led the team in 2015 and Jalen McCleskey had more last year. As a freshman, Washington caught 12.6 percent. His sophomore and junior seasons he caught 16.3 percent and 24 percent, respectively.

Even more surprising, Washington has never recorded double-digit catches in a single game. He had nine twice and eight once — all in 2016. Justin Blackmon had seven double-digit games as a sophomore and six as a junior. Blackmon is the Cowboy leader in career catches per game (6.7 averaged). Washington is currently outside the top ten with his career average of 3.9.

But that’s just part of the story. Blackmon had a much better catch rate (75%-plus) — which is just plain silly. Remember, this is raw data. We’re not even differentiating between “catchable” and “non-catchable” passes here. If the ball got flung in his direction, 81 came down with it.

Washington’s catch rate numbers were lower than I expected but his aforementioned 19.2 yards per catch is equally unheard of. Blackmon’s career yards-per-catch average of 14.0 doesn’t even crack the top ten. Washington may already be the best “deep threat” to put on an OSU uniform.

So Justin caught everything and if James catches it, he’s going to pay it off with extra yards. Check out Adam Lunt’s film study on Washington for a breakdown.

The end result is that both players were pretty close in “yards per target”. Blackmon wins the scoring battle by a landslide but again that has a lot to do with receiver depth and, in turn, amount of targets/catches.

The question of whether Washington can end his career as the all-time receiver at OSU comes down to touches. In 2016, his 71 receptions were a career high. At his career average of 19.2 yards per reception, Washington would need 78 catches to surpass Rashaun. And that’s not even allowing for any improvement in catch rate.

Most will point to the talent-rich receiving corps the Cowboys are blessed with and predict decreased catches for Washington. I wouldn’t be so sure. He’s option No. 1 for Mason Rudolph and if the Cowboys “go four-wide” as Gundy sort of predicted, there could be more catches to go around.

Whether Washington ends at No. 1 or No. 2 on the all-time receiving yards list, he’s already cemented himself as an all-time great at OSU. Looking at the numbers and his importance to the offense, you still have to give the nod to Blackmon but Washington’s got another year to build his case.

Credit Bill Connelly and Football Study Hall for the advanced receiver stats.

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