Editor’s note: This is the fifth story in a series of post-mortems on Indiana’s position groups. We’ll spread them out over the next few days and weeks, looking at how each unit fared during the 2020 season, and how each group projects to look in 2021. Next up, the receivers and tight ends.
How they fared
Ty Fryfogle probably wasn’t the first member of Indiana’s passing game to come to mind entering the 2020 season. At least, not with Whop Philyor and Peyton Hendershot still hanging around. But Fryfogle quickly ascended to Go-to Guy status, breaking out for 142 yards and a touchdown in IU’s third game, then following that effort with 418 yards spread across the next two weeks. In doing so, he became the first receiver in Big Ten history to author back-to-back 200-yard performances.
With Fryfogle buoying the group, Indiana’s receiving corps continued its growth into one of the Big Ten’s better units. At the same time, there were too many drops, stifling what might’ve been an even better year for the aerial attack. But overall, it was a good showing from position coach Grant Heard’s group in 2020.
A glance at the overall production:
Here’s how IU’s receiving game graded in the Pro Football Focus database in 2020, and also how it compared to recent Indiana football seasons:
Receiving grades (overall grade | Big Ten rank| Power Five rank out of 65)
- 2020: 72.0 | No. 3 Big Ten | No. 20 Power Five
- 2019: 73.1 | No. 6 Big Ten | No. 25 Power Five
- 2018: 66.9 | No. 8 Big Ten | No. 44 Power Five
- 2017: 61.8 | No. 9 Big Ten | No. 53 Power Five
- 2016: 78.9 | No. 3 Big Ten | No. 12 Power Five
- 2015: 81.4 | No. 5 Big Ten | No. 12 Power Five
- 2014: 55.9 | No. 13 Big Ten | No. 62 Power Five
And here’s how the targets broke down for all pass catchers (running backs and tight ends included):
- Whop Philyor 89
- Ty Fryfogle 69
- Peyton Hendershot 35
- Miles Marshall 34
- Stevie Scott 19
- David Ellis 17
- Jacolby Hewitt 7
- Javon Swinton 4
- Matt Bjorson 2
- AJ Barner 1
- Sampson James 1
Philyor shot to the top of the target list over the final two weeks, when Jack Tuttle threw the ball his way 30 times between the Wisconsin and Ole Miss games. For the year, Philyor saw his PFF receiver grade drop from a 77.9 in 2019 to a 71.5 in 2020, good for the 16th best mark in the Big Ten. But it was still a solid season for Philyor, who picked up 26 first downs, 227 yards after the catch and avoided a Big Ten-leading 12 would-be tackles after receptions. The bulk of his production came from catches made over the middle of the field (and underneath the first-down marker), where he caught 21 of the 25 passes thrown in his direction for 140 yards and one score.
Of course, the star of the show was Fryfogle, who led the team in just about every category that Philyor didn’t. Among Big Ten receivers, Fryfogle’s overall receiver grade of 80.0 ranked fourth behind Ohio State’s Chris Olave (84.8), Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman (81.9) and Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson (80.6). Fryfogle totaled 380 of his yards on passes targeted at least 20 yards downfield, the highest deep pass total of any Big Ten receiver. He moved the chains 20 times across his three most productive games (Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State), and his 27 total first downs ranked seventh in the league. Andy Wittry took a deeper drive into Fryfogle’s emergence last month, and if you haven’t already checked that out, you should.
The next highest-rated receivers after Fryfogle and Philyor were Jacolby Hewitt and Javon Swinton. Hewitt’s season might be best remembered for his first catch of the fall (and the first of his career), a diving haul over the middle that helped IU proceed to tie the season opener against Penn State late in regulation. Swinton was similarly swell late in the Penn State game, an early sign that IU’s coaches were right about the freshman’s potential. Perhaps you’ll recall how giddy IU’s coaching staff seemed to be about Swinton during both versions of fall camp. He was consistent with his route running during preseason practices, and you can’t always say that about first-year receivers. Hewitt graded as a 69.2 at PFF, while Swinton finished at a 64.4.
With the third-most targets among IU’s receivers, Marshall graded as a 60.2 and recorded 12 first downs, while Ellis graded as a 56.6. But both Marshall and Ellis also had two of the more painful drops of the season, which, speaking of drops ... yikes. IU had a lot of them — 21, in fact. Here’s the rundown:
- Peyton Hendershot 6
- Stevie Scott 5
- Whop Philyor 3
- David Ellis 2
- Miles Marshall 2
- Ty Fryfogle 2
- AJ Barner 1
Even if you take out Scott’s five, IU still ranked third in the Big Ten in drops by receivers and tight ends. That’s two behind Illinois and Minnesota, which each totaled 18 between those position groups. At Indiana, Hendershot had the most trouble hauling in balls — a little more than 20% of the catchable passes targeted for Hendershot were dropped, the worst mark in the league. In total, he had a drop in all but two games. That contributed to Hendershot’s receiver grade falling from the third-highest in the league among regular tight ends in 2019 (72.1) to the third-lowest grade among his Big Ten position mates in 2020 (53.4).
What’s on deck
Philyor is gone and ... that’s it. IU will return the Big Ten receiver of the year, along with a stable of others to solidify what could be a deep group. The Hoosiers are bringing in Florida State transfer D.J. Matthews, who will likely be tasked with filling in for Philyor, and it’ll also be interesting to see Marshall, Hewitt and Swinton battle for targets. And we can’t forget about guys such as Da’Shaun Brown, David Baker and Gary Cooper. They’ll compete for time, too.
IU’s recruiting class features two high school signees, including four-star recruit Jaquez Smith, who is ranked among the top 50 receivers in his class in the 247 Sports Composite. Three-star signee Jordyn Williams, meanwhile, is an early enrollee. In the case of the tight ends, perhaps Hendershot will be driven to prove 2020 was an aberration. However the competition unfolds, it feels like Indiana is in good shape with its passing game. A few more explosive plays (and explosive players) would be welcome, but overall, it’s a good looking group.