RE: Roundtree: His lack of speed is evident. It basically cost us the Illinois game last year, and almost cost us the Indiana game this year. (Its never just about one play, but if he doesn't get caught on those plays we maybe/probably get 7 extra points that don't make these gains seem so bad) Speed and big play ability has been hailed in this blog (Shaw on O and the critiques for Gordon/Kovacs on D) but Roundtree has gotten a bit of a free pass.
Most of Roundtree's big plays are the result of Denard and scheme. He runs, untouched, thanks to the defense's attention being elsewhere. He's a good player (that ND catch to get to the goalline was the best play of his career IMO) but he's benefiting from circumstance. Odoms was pretty productive in the same role and Grady has had some big plays in the backup guy. The slots all have a similar YPC, while Stonum, TRob, and Hemingway all have bigger YPC.
I'm not saying Roundtree should be benched, I'm just wondering why the love for Roundtree is so strong but another productive/reliable player like Smith gets killed.
First of all, let's take a look at the facts. Lankownia says that the slots all have similar yards per catch, and a few other wide receivers have better yards per catch. So let's see . . .
Roy Roundtree: 25 catches, 337 yards, 13.6 yards per catch, 2 touchdowns
Darryl Stonum: 15 catches, 226 yards, 15.1 yards per catch, 2 touchdowns
Martavious Odoms: 14 catches, 165 yards, 11.8 yards per catch, 0 touchdowns
Kelvin Grady: 8 catches, 105 yards, 12.1 yards per catch, 0 touchdowns
Junior Hemingway: 6 catches, 190 yards, 31.7 yards per catch, 1 touchdown
Jeremy Gallon: 2 catches, 25 yards, 12.5 yards per catch, 1 touchdown
Terrence Robinson: 1 catch, 43 yards, 43.0 yards per catch, 0 touchdowns
So if we're just talking about yards per catch, Roundtree is fourth on the team behind Terrence Robinson, Junior Hemingway, and Darryl Stonum. Robinson only has one catch this season, so it's hard to tell how talented he is. Surely his 43.0 yards per catch wouldn't hold up throughout an entire season.
That leaves Stonum and Hemingway as legitimately more dangerous players, right? Sure, I guess. But those solid numbers are also a function of their positions. In Rich Rodriguez's offense, the outside receivers are expected to a) block, b) run intermediate routes, and c) run go routes. It should be expected that these players will have higher yards per catch, because short routes aren't in their arsenal. They either catch the ball downfield, or they don't catch the ball at all.
In the meantime, Roy Roundtree plays slot receiver. Slot receiver in this offense is much like running back, because a large portion of Roundtree's catches are bubble screens, which are essentially long handoffs. Lankownia states that Martavious Odoms was pretty productive as a slot receiver, too, but these two slot receivers don't compare. Between 2008 and 2009, Odoms averaged 35.5 receptions, 357.5 yards, and .5 touchdowns. In 10 career games as a slot receiver, Roundtree has 57 catches for 771 yards and 5 touchdowns. And while Odoms only averaged 10.1 yards per reception in 2008-09, Roundtree has him beat by about 3.5 yards per catch. That's a pretty significant difference.
Lankownia seems to be frustrated that Roundtree has been unable to score on a couple long receptions. He had a 76-yarder against Illinois last year on which he was caught at the 1-yard line, and there was the 74-yarder against Indiana this past weekend on which Roundtree was stopped on the 2-yard line. I have a hard time criticizing a guy whose biggest fault seems to be that his 75-ish-yard catches don't turn into 77-ish-yard catches. Those plays would probably be remembered more fondly if Rich Rodriguez hadn't chosen noted softy Carlos Brown and 5'6" Vincent Smith, respectively, to try to punch those subsequent plays into the endzone; in case your memory is failing you right now, both Brown and Smith failed.
Regarding Roundtree's supposed lack of speed vs. the lack of speed for Cameron Gordon and Jordan Kovacs, I don't see Roundtree's footspeed as a huge problem. Again, when a guy is averaging 13.6 yards a catch and has the ability to make 76-yard catch-and-run plays, I'm not going to complain. Roundtree has the necessary skills to be a very successful wide receiver, even if his speed leaves a tiny bit to be desired. The problem with Cam Gordon and Jordan Kovacs is that their lack of speed specifically prevents them from doing their jobs. As safeties, their jobs presumably entail preventing the other team from making big plays and scoring. When an Indiana running back outruns you for 85 yards (Jordan Kovacs) and when a 265 lb. tight end outruns you for 95 yards (Cam Gordon), there's a problem with that. And when both of those guys are playing in the same defensive backfield, it's a recipe for disaster.
Lankownia also says that Roundtree's production is the result of Denard's running ability. If that's true, then why did Roundtree catch 32 passes for 434 yards and 3 touchdowns with Tate Forcier running the show last year? Teams weren't really afraid of Forcier's running, but Roundtree still found a way to lead the team in receiving in scant playing time.
The premise for Lankownia's statement about Smithis questionable, in my opinion. It presumes that Vincent Smith is a productive running back. As I noted in a recent post, Smith is the 8th-best running back (by yards per carry) in the Big Ten + Notre Dame. Those mediocre numbers are in conjunction with a Heisman candidate at quarterback and a good offensive line. Even if Smith is the best running back Michigan has to offer - which I obviously don't believe - that doesn't mean he's productive. Meanwhile, Roundtree consistently finds himself in open areas of the field, whether the quarterback is Tate Forcier or Denard Robinson. I don't know what it is, but Roundtree has that "It Factor" that some guys just happen to have. He catches the ball, makes an occasional big play, blocks well (watch Brandon Minor's TD run against Purdue in 2009), makes people miss, and most importantly, he gets open.
I can't make this clear enough, but it's worth repeating: I don't hate Vincent Smith. I don't have a personal grudge against him. I'm not against short backs (I loved to watch Darren Sproles when he was at Kansas State), I'm not against dreadlocks (Denard Robinson has quickly grown into one of my favorite players), and it's not about recruiting rankings (Michael Cox wasn't a highly touted recruit, either). I quite simply believe that Smith shouldn't be getting the most carries for this team. And while Smith has been just so-so in his two seasons, Roundtree has been somewhere between above average and spectacular.