Mailbag: Why the Roy Roundtree love?

Mailbag: Why the Roy Roundtree love?

October 5, 2010

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.


  1. Comments: 21386
    Oct 05, 2010 at 3:49 PM

    I think the mailbag post about Roundtree's speed is very results oriented. If we had scored touchdowns on the two drives that Roundtree got it down inside the 2 yard line, I don't think we'd be seeing this article at all.

    Not to compare the two at all, but this argument is almost akin to criticizing Mike Hart for not having enough breakaway speed. Mike used to break contain and break 30 yard runs that someone with home run speed would have easily taken to the house (i.e. Denard). Did we stop feeding him the ball because of that? Ideally we'd have top level speed at every skill position but there are some guys that can make up for it.

    One thing I like about Roundtree is that he consistently turns bubble screens into 5+ yard gains. He puts us in more manageable down and distance situations. He also makes a lot of tough catches over the middle. He runs great routes. Steve Breaston is a good example of someone with a lot more natural talent than Roundtree but he could never run routes well enough to be a great college WR (although he got a lot better at it in the pros). Roundtree is essentially the perfect slot wide receiver for this offense (and many offenses), and he's only a sophomore. I really don't see much legitimate criticism of what he's done for us so far.

  2. Comments: 21386
    Oct 05, 2010 at 3:53 PM

    Great response Magnus.

    I'm particularly surprised of these thoughts from Lankownia after Roundtree to me looked the best he has looked in the open field to date. He beat one guy straight up in the open field on his TD and then beat two guys on a similar play later in the half. Granted these were Indiana defenders, but they were great moves.

    With a QB like Denard the number 1 necessity for all other players on the field is the ability to block. I believe this is why we see so much of Smith, he understands the schemes. Unfortunately my guess is Cox has a long way to go in that department.

    Roundtree not only knows the blocking schemes very well, but can get open in the zone coverages that we find ourselves facing every game (hard to play man when DR is a threat to run). While he leaves a bit to be desired with his physical talents, he more than makes up for it with his understanding of the game.

  3. Comments: 21386
    Oct 05, 2010 at 4:19 PM

    I was really surprised that with the few short yardage situations that we had we never used Stephon Hopkins. I guess that RichRod is content to put a mediocre RB in there who doesn't make mistakes in lieu of a guy who can gain more yardage but might miss an assignment that leads to a turnover.

  4. Comments: 21386
    Oct 05, 2010 at 4:51 PM

    Good grief, Michigan fans wear me out

    Yeah, why the love for our best WR the last 9 games played? Clearly Roundtree cost us the Illinois game. Did you see all those missed tackles by him on Michael LeShoure?

  5. Comments: 21386
    Oct 05, 2010 at 6:56 PM

    Just to clarify to Jamie Mac and the others, my comments aren't really intended to criticize Roy Roundtree. Roundtree is very good, and I'm very happy with his play. My point was to ask about Thunder's inconsistent opinions in regard to speed and overall player evaluations. In short, why the love for Roundtree and not Smith? Both are productive, neither is perfect.

    "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."

    And yet, when a guy average 5.8 ypc (2009) and 4.8 ypc (2010), and has the ability to make a 56 yard run, you do complain. Smiths YPC may not be impressive relative to other leading rushers in the conference, but is Roundtree's YPC impressive compared to other leading receivers?

    Is it even impressive compared to his own teammates?

    If you want to address sample size variation, you can combine Grady, Odoms, Gallon, TRobs production, they have 25 catches, which matches up exactly with Roundtree. Whats the difference in yards: 1. 338 yards for the group to Roundtree's 337 yards. The production is nearly identical!

    These results say Roundtree isn't distinguishing himself from the pack. (Which is the same situation we see at RB). "It factor"…maybe, but the numbers don't show it.


    As for the defensive speed question…

    "their lack of speed specifically prevents them from doing their jobs"

    That makes sense to me. I could argue that Roundtree's lack of speed prevented him from doing his job (running faster than DBs to the endzone), but its a weak argument. Roundtree is effective. I don't see "spectacular", personally, but its a matter of opinion.

    I love Roundtree's game, but to me, he's no Howard, Toomer, Terrell, Edwards, Manningham. He's more Avant, Walker, Kolesar. Thats not a bad thing at all, and shouldn't be taken as a critique.

    Thanks for taking the time to respond.

    …One other comment: You've mentioned numerous times that Smith got stuffed on the goalline, but so has shaw

    1st and Goal at BGSU 6 Vincent Smith rush for 5 yards to the BwGrn 1.
    2nd and Goal at BGSU 1 Michael Shaw rush for no gain to the BwGrn 1.
    3rd and Goal at BGSU 2 Tate Forcier pass complete to John McColgan for 2 yards for a TOUCHDOWN.

    These things happen. Its not the fault of Smith anymore than its the fault of Roundtree.

  6. Comments: 21386
    Oct 05, 2010 at 7:09 PM

    I think my biggest qualm in all this is with the use of ypc. Its a pretty limited measurement, especially when you're dealing with such small sample sizes and they can be swayed by factors that have nothing to do with player ability. A 74 yard run (or catch) from the 26 isn't really twice as impressive as a 37 yard run (or catch) from the 37, but it'll swing ypc dramatically. These plays, anyway, are outliers.

    YPC is useful but when you use it as your primary basis for bashing a guy (after just a few games) it seems unfair to that player.

    If you argued that Gallon or Stonum or Hemingway were better than Roundtree, I'd disagree with you, just as I disagree with your argument that Shaw, Cox, Toussaint are better than Smith. The stats don't show an appreciable difference.

  7. Comments: 21386
    Oct 06, 2010 at 1:04 AM

    @ Lankownia

    That 5.8 yards per carry for Smith in 2009 is a farce. He averaged 3.75 yards a carry against non-Delaware State opponents. He had a great game against a crappy FCS school, which changed his YPC from 3.75 to 5.8.

    Regarding Roundtree's teammates, Odoms isn't a slot receiver anymore. He's a wideout. They run different routes and have different responsibilities. Take away his stats, and you have 11 receptions for 173 yards and 1 touchdown. Those are pretty good numbers, but keep in mind that Terrence Robinson's numbers (1 catch for 43 yards) as a slot receiver aren't muted by a single bubble screen.

    A better comparison for Roundtree might be Darius Reynaud, the former WVU slot receiver. He had 133 career catches for 1,550 yards, which is an 11.7 yard average. Over his three seasons, he averaged 44.3 receptions, 516 yards, and 6.3 touchdowns. Roundtree averages almost 2 more yards a catch, and he's on pace for better overall receptions and yards.

    By the way, I haven't asked for Shaw to be our goal line running back. I suggested that Michigan should use Michael Cox (211 lbs.) or Stephen Hopkins (227 lbs.) in that role. Neither Shaw nor Smith has shown a consistent ability to push the pile.

  8. Comments: 21386
    Oct 06, 2010 at 1:10 AM

    @ Lankownia

    I'm not going to continue discussing the Smith battle with you. You've made your feelings clear, and I have done so as well. We disagree, and nothing we say at this point is going to convince the other.

    Roundtree and Smith aren't similar in their roles. If you can't see that Roundtree has been consistently productive since earning the starting job, then I don't know what to tell you. Arguing the same about Smith borders on ridiculous.

    Put it this way: If I were in charge of the rankings for "NCAA '11" for PlayStation 3, I would rank Roundtree significantly higher than Smith overall. I know the real "NCAA '11" doesn't agree, but they also put his speed as a 92 or something like that, which is just plain silly when Denard Robinson is a 94 (I think).

  9. Comments: 21386
    Oct 06, 2010 at 2:18 AM


    You obviously have strong opinions that differ daily with Thunder's and that's fine. I disagree with your Vincent Smith love because I think it's obvious that he's not quite as shifty as last year, but I guess I understand. Even at his best, though, he accounted for only 140 on total yards on 26 touches in his two "showcase" games against Wiscy and OSU.

    This Roundtree stand, though, is crazy. Ever since he's received significant playing time, he has gotten open, made the catch, and gotten YAC. He is head and shoulders above our other WRs.

    Also, being caught this year was not a lack of speed as defenders had angles on him. He set up his block to maximize the gain. He didn't get run down from behind because he's slow. Watch it again.

  10. Comments: 21386
    Oct 06, 2010 at 2:22 AM

    You don't think the weakness on offense right now is the running backs? Between Robinson and the OLine and you don't think the production should be better and more consistent from that position? Because I do, and I fear 3 and outs right now and Smith contributed to 3 of 5 of those second half 3 and outs.

  11. Comments: 21386
    Oct 06, 2010 at 3:12 AM

    This is exactly the inconsistency that I'm talking about.

    "That 5.8 yards per carry for Smith in 2009 is a farce. He averaged 3.75 yards a carry against non-Delaware State opponents. He had a great game against a crappy FCS school, which changed his YPC from 3.75 to 5.8."

    That is true. So is this:

    The 5.6 ypc for Shaw in 2010 is a farce. He averaged 3.72 ypc against non-UMass opponents. He had a great game against a crappy FCS school, which changed his YPC from 3.7 to 5.5

    "Shaw is MORE effective than Smith. I'm not saying Shaw is great. But the statistics show that Shaw is better… I have stats to back me up, and you don't. "

    Cut out the FCS competition (as you suggest we should with Smith in '09) and Smith is 5.2 ypc vs 3.7 for Shaw in '10… career smith is better, last year smith is better, against non-fcs smith is better, against BCS smith is better. Most of the stats point to Smith.

    Similarly you chide Smith for having a low YPC as compared to other leading big 10 rushers and ignore the fact that Roundtree has a low YPC compared to other leading big 10 receivers.


    If you just say "Shaw looks better to me", I wouldn't even be arguing the point. I'm arguing with your inconsistent rationale, arbitrary criteria, and use of statistics.

    The funny thing is I don't even feel that strongly about it. I think the stats show no meaningful difference. If Smith gets 10 carries to Shaw's 20 in MSU I'll have no complaints. But I'll also have no complaints if the distribution is reversed.

    I think your opinion about Shaw's superiority is shared by most Michigan fans. I'm content with this being the end of the discussion. We've hit a wall on both sides. I'll probably dig a little further into the numbers and put a diary up about Smith vs Shaw on MgoBlog, just to see if everyone else thinks I'm a ridiculous raving lunatic…probably so.

  12. Comments: 21386
    Oct 06, 2010 at 4:54 AM


    If Smith's YPC in 2009 is a farce because of his performance against Delaware State, what do we make of Michael Cox's entire career at this point?

  13. Comments: 21386
    Oct 06, 2010 at 7:32 AM

    @ Lankownia 11:12 p.m.

    It's not an inconsistency. Smith had a great game in 2009 against DSU, which bumped his YPC from 3.75 to 5.8.

    But in 2010 against UMass (another FCS team), he ran for 3.8 YPC while Shaw ran for 10.5. I'm sorry, but if you run for 3.8 YPC against an FCS team like that, it's going to raise questions.

  14. Comments: 21386
    Oct 06, 2010 at 7:33 AM

    I don't want to discuss it anymore, but I wanted to explain why the inconsistency isn't an inconsistency.

  15. Comments: 21386
    Oct 06, 2010 at 11:45 AM

    I haven't read this whole thing, and I am not one of those people who will get into a back-and-forth argument. I think these comments kind of show why–you don't really get anywhere.

    I just wanted to say that I agree with two points Lankownia, at least originally, made–1) Roundtree is slow, and 2) he had a ROLE in costing us the Illinois game. This is not to say, as Lankownia is not saying, that I don't like Roundtree or don't value the good things he has done for Michigan. It's not criticism–more like observation. With regards to slowness, I see other Michigan players, including on offense, this applies to. And you also have to understand that's it's in relative terms. Just on Michigan's team alone, the fastest player on offense is clearly Denard. I don't think a QB should ever be the fastest player on offense, though I understand Denard is a special player and runs track. But I think that with the speed the other offensive players have, Denard is the only offensive player other teams actually fear because he's the only one who makes people think that if you miss the first couple tackles then that's a touchdown for Michigan. Again, I find this unusual–I think that other players on Michigan's offense should, at least, be that same kind of threat to other teams.

    This ties in with #2. I feel like usually when a player breaks a long run, that SHOULD mean they are just gone, especially if you're inside the 10 after running from way down the field. Roundtree should not have been catchable, and the fact that he was…it led to the series of events that were 1) the RBs not being able to punch the ball in for a touchdown and 2) the momentum shift to Illinois that led to Michigan doing, basically, nothing the rest of that game. Momentum means a lot. I think failing to get a touchdown on that series really took the wind out of Michigan's sails and put it in Illinois', and that the game would have gone a lot differently. I'm not saying it's all Roundtree's fault, but he contributed because he does not have elite speed…which I find interesting, considering RR, from what I know of him, seems to be all about getting players with speed. Other teams, that would have been a touchdown…and this is exactly why the Big Ten gets dogged. I mean, I couldn't help but look at Roundtree's TD run against Indiana and think, "He's slow." Same with Hemingway. Obviously, it was a TD–nothing to criticize. Just an observation. But against faster teams and teams with better D, that TD wouldn't have been one.

    As for Roundtree not standing out from other receivers…I agree, but I think that has to do more with the fact that RR rotates so many players and spreads the ball around so much, not to mention that we rely on the QB so much. In his kind of offense, we're probably never going to have a standout or drafted RB or WR until RR leaves Michigan.

  16. Comments: 21386
    Oct 06, 2010 at 2:28 PM

    I think Shaw and Stonum are a couple of other guys that have that big play speed. The problem comes with getting them to open space with the ball. Stonum isn't a great pass catcher or route runner (though he seems to be getting better). Shaw gets tackled easily.

    Roundtree seems to be a great pass catcher and route runner, so you accept the lack of speed because overall, he seems at least as effective as Stonum. Big play ability isn't the only thing that matters.

    To me, Roundtree does stand out, but its mostly because of his somewhat unique skill-set. His consistency. His reliability. The stats don't say he stands out. But the stats (at least ypc) are even more irrelevant for WR than ypc is for RBs.

    I think Smith has some of the same characteristics as Roundtree…but thats like my opinion, man.

  17. Comments: 21386
    Oct 07, 2010 at 8:46 PM

    I think we lost the Illinois game because 1. our defense let a bad offense look great and 2. we couldn't score from the 1 on 4 plays. That's not Roundtree's fault.

    Lankownia, give up on the Smith fight. It's dumb. You see it one way and most of us see it another. But constantly arguing and finding anyway possible to bring it up (like criticizing Roundtree fans) takes it from being just a minority opinion to an obsession. Yes, you clearly are obsessed that not everyone agrees with you that Smith is amazing. I'm not a big fan of Cox (12 year old me laughs) but being 100% behind Smith is ridiculous. Just looking back at previous Michigan RBs this decade proves Smith isn't on par. Would you not take the A-Train, Perry, Hart, Minor, or Carlos Brown over Smith? Smith clearly has talent but is 1. still hurt and 2. not a grind it for 4 yards RB nor 3. a take it to the house on any play RB.

    In this offense the RB should either be a up the middle RB/FB combo guy who can gut defenses for 5 yards a carry, score on the goal line, and wear out the LBs or you should be a speedy RB that can take it off tackle and beat the safety deep for 6 guy, see Owen Schmitt and Steve Slaton at WVU. Smith right now is not getting the job done. Yes he can block and catch but does he scare the defense enough to not cheat on Denard? No. Might that be due to injury, yes, but then he shouldn't be in. If Michigan can add a scary RB threat to defenses then they can't crash the DE down every single time in hopes of keeping the ball out of Denard's hands without scoring. Add a RB to this lethal offense and nobody, NOBODY, could stop us. Smith isn't that. I don't see why you need to fight about it.

  18. Comments: 21386
    Oct 09, 2010 at 4:57 PM

    KB, you're obviously not paying much attention to what I actually said in the comments. Not so black and white. I wasn't criticizing Roundtree or his fans (which include me).

    I'm also far from being 100% Smith. More like 40% Smith 40% 20% Other. Whereas SOME people are like 70% Other 29% Shaw and 1% Smith. No one is arguing any of these guys are great.

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