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The 2013 NFL Draft is dead. Long live the Draft.

In Thursday night’s first round three WRs were taken, and we all know how exciting first-round WRs are. In fact, I just finished a series on the value and productivity of first-round WRs, the last piece of which was released, aptly enough, on the first day of the 2013 Draft.

But, in the reality of the NFL and the fake reality of fantasy football, the WRs drafted later are often just as important to success as the guys drafted higher. We certainly like to talk about the first-round guys—leading up to the draft RotoViz’s Shawn Siegele and I engaged in a debate regarding Cordarrelle Patterson’s NFL prospects (here are my original piece, his fantastic response, and my counter)—but we also find the “lesser counterparts” to be worthy of electronic ink. For instance, I’ve recently written a piece on Stedman Bailey’s NFL prospects (his landing spot could be worse), and in March I put out a piece on former second-rounder Stephen Hill and two pieces here and here on former third-rounder T.Y. Hilton. And very soon I plan to release what will likely be my final WR rookie piece—my presentation of the most undervalued (and now undrafted) receiver in the 2013 class, “Marshall Colston.”

And, of course, the RotoViz staff has recently created the 2013 composite rookie rankings for each position, and I recommend that you check out Jon Moore’s presentation of the WR composite rankings. (And, if I can say, my presentation of the composite RB rankings is also worth a look.)

In this article I want to look at two SEC WRs whom NFL teams (as evidenced by the draft) judged to be relatively valueless. The first, the undrafted Da’Rick Rogers, signed as a free agent by the Bills, has been the subject of much love from the RotoViz writers. Although he was #8 in our pre-draft composite rankings, the general sentiment on the staff was that he has rare athleticism, has the upside of Sidney Rice and Dwayne Bowe, and has the potential—despite his 2012 regression—to become, as Jon Moore puts it, an elite #1 wide receiver.

Even after Rogers went undrafted Shawn Siegele said this in a series of emails: “Crazy the way character issues affect different guys. The unathletic Honey Badger going in Round 3 and the ultra-athletic DaRick Rogers going undrafted is bizarre. Rogers must be some kind of unreal punk. [. . .] Hunter and Patterson were arguably even worse in SEC play and went ridiculously high. I think Rogers is probably the best athlete of the three and Bray was worse his year. Entertaining that the Bills used two picks at WR and their PFA is the only one with NFL ability.”

In Shawn’s comments the primary issue at hand is not Rogers’ on-field performance but his off-field troubles attitude. While those are significant, I believe they are not the reason he went undrafted. As Shawn said, even Tyrann Mathieu could be drafted. Why was he drafted but Rogers not? Because when he played against SEC opponents, Mathieu produced, and Rogers did not. Even worse, when Rogers played against FCS competition in 2012, he failed to produce as a real SEC stud would have. No team drafted Rogers not because of his troubles off the field. They stayed away because of his troubles on it. Ultimately, Rogers went undrafted because, based on the 2011 and 2012 seasons, he’s not a football player of whom much should be expected.

I attempted to indicate as much in the composite rankings by giving him a staff-wide low score of #12, which I at the time considered to be a “let someone else draft him” score. It turns out that 1) the NFL got the message and 2) I still ranked him way too high. In the composite rankings, I am quoted as saying of Rogers, “He is hit or miss, only one game this year of over 100 yards, against inferior competition.” That, in a nutshell, is why I have doubts about Rogers’ ability to produce in the NFL. He couldn’t get it done against inferior competition in 2012.

The second SEC WR I want to consider, Ryan Swope, sort of had the same problem as Rogers: He sucked against inferior competition in 2012, and so his overall seasonal stats were not as good as they otherwise could have been—because he rocked the SEC last season. Swope has received almost no attention from the RotoViz staff—and I believe that should be rectified, especially now that he has become the Wide Receiver Whisperer’s newest late-round project.

Here’s what I had to say about Bruce Arians in mid-March when talking about T.Y. Hilton: “Arians seems to thrive on finding fast/shifty undersized and undervalued WRs in the middle rounds. From 2007 to 2012, spanning his time as the Offensive Coordinator of the Steelers and then the Colts, Arians oversaw the drafting of the following players in Rounds 3-6: Mike Wallace (2009, 3rd round), Emmanual Sanders (2010, 3rd), Antonio Brown (2010, 6th), T.Y. Hilton (2012, 3rd), and LaVon Brazill (2012, 6th). For a guy who swings only at short and slender WRs after the top rounds, Arians hits a lot of homeruns.” Drafted in the sixth round of the 2013 draft, Swope now follows in the route-running footsteps of these other Arianites, and he certainly fits the fast-undervalued mold. Clocking a 4.34 40-yard dash at the Combine, Swope matched Hilton’s pro day 40 time in 2012. In other words, as crazy as this sounds, Swope is at least as fast as Hilton in a track meet—and probably faster.

Swope’s speed gains extra significance when one considers that he differs from Arians’ previous receivers in one crucial way—he’s (sort of) big. Standing at 6’0” and weighing 205 lbs, Swope is certainly not small, especially for a slot receiver. He has a legit NFL body that could belong to an outside receiver, and, contrary to popular belief, Swope actually can line up out wide. Still, he’s at his best as a slot receiver. You want to know what Michael Crabtree would look like with Hilton’s speed? Take about an inch off the top, and that’s Swope.

As if he weren’t intriguing enough on his own, his landing spot makes him an ideal late-round or waiver-wire rookie target in dynasty leagues. Of all the Arians late-round wonders, Swope may be the most intriguing.

I have a rule when it comes to WRs drafted after the fourth round: Don’t roster them in dynasty leagues until, at the earliest, the end of their second NFL seasons. I follow this rule fairly religiously, except in the one exceptional instance in which I indulge the rule’s breach almost as religiously: Bruce Arians late-round WRs. And when you throw in the fact that Swope did what Rogers never did—dominate the SEC—well, Swope just became one of my favorite non-first-round receivers not named Stedman Bailey.

In the pre-draft composite WR rankings, I am quoted as saying this about Swope: “He was perhaps the 2nd best WR in the SEC this year, and his 40 time was unreal.” After more consideration, I wish to combine and amend my two statements to this: “While people think Rogers was perhaps the best SEC WR in 2011, he wasn’t. And even though some people don’t even know who Swope is—he was the best SEC WR in 2012 (at least the best one likely to see NFL playing time).” Although Swope was #11 in our composite rankings, I gave him a score of #8—and now that I think his fantasy prospects will eventually match his ability I would bump him up a few spots if we were submitting new scores today.

As strange as it seems, most fantasy players probably still prefer Rogers to Swope, even though the latter was drafted and the former wasn’t. At RotoViz, I was one of two rankers to prefer Swope to Rogers, and in this article I want to show how I arrived at that decision.

Let’s start with Rogers. By now you probably now his story: “Dominated” the SEC in 2011 with the Volunteers, kicked off the team in 2012, transferred to Tennessee Tech shortly before the 2012 season and proceeded to “tear up” the lesser FCS competition in the Ohio Valley Conference. Of course, this story with which you are familiar is a myth—he did not dominate the SEC in 2011 and he did not tear up the OVC in 2012.

Let’s start with 2011. Although Rogers led the Vols in receiving yards, scrimmage yards, and all-purpose TDs (as Justin Hunter missed most of the season with an ACL injury), the sophomore WR did not actually dominate the SEC. He dominated everyone except the SEC.

Here are his statistics against the four non-SEC teams he played in 2011—teams from the FCS, the Big East, the MAC, and the Sun Belt. In other words, here’s how Rogers did against defenses not even close to elite:

Non-SEC Opponents Rec Yds Avg TD
Montana 5.0 100.0 20.0 1.0
Cincinnati 10.0 100.0 10.0 2.0
Buffalo 7.0 180.0 25.7 2.0
Middle Tennessee State 9.0 137.0 15.2 1.0
Per Game Avg 7.8 129.3 16.7 1.5

As one would expect, he utterly destroyed them. Against teams that were physically overmatched, he was a statistical bully. But how did he do against the SEC kids his own size? As this table shows, not so well.

SEC Opponents Rec Yds Avg TD
Florida 5.00 62.00 12.40 1.00
Georgia 5.00 71.00 14.20 -
Louisiana State 3.00 63.00 21.00 -
Alabama 2.00 32.00 16.00 -
South Carolina 4.00 35.00 8.80 -
Arkansas 5.00 106.00 21.20 -
Vanderbilt 10.00 116.00 11.60 2.00
Kentucky 2.00 38.00 19.00 -
Per Game Avg 4.50 65.38 14.53 0.38

This guy did not dominate the SEC. He merely played in the SEC. He padded his stats against weak non-conference competition and then treaded water during conference play. The overall seasonal stats look good, but he got about half of his receptions and yards and two-thirds of his TDs in only a third of his games—the games against the weakest teams on the schedule. Translation: He was (consistently) inconsistent, and he tended to play well against only inferior competition. That style of play is not likely to result in NFL success.

In fact, these trends of inconsistency and “superiority” against weak competition appear not only in his conference/non-conference splits but also within his SEC splits. In eight SEC games, he went over 100 yards receiving only twice, and he also scored TDs in only two games. And if we look closer we’ll see that Tennessee played six SEC games against teams that finished with a winning record and only two against losing teams. What a coincidence!—Rogers’ best SEC game, in which he had 116 receiving yards and scored 2 TDs (both SEC highs for him), was against Vanderbilt, one of the two losing teams.

So how did Rogers do in the other seven SEC games: 26 receptions for 407 yards and 1 TD, which yields 3.7 receptions for 58.1 yards and 0.14 TDs per game. He may have played in the SEC in 2011—but let’s not insult A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Dwayne Bowe, and Sidney Rice. Da’Rick Rogers is not that kind of SEC WR.

At best, Rogers is Rueben Randle. They have similar physical qualities and athleticism and Rogers’s best case draft position after his 2012 season was likely near the bottom of the second round. Additionally, Rogers and Randle produced very similar stats in the five SEC games they played against common opponents, although (remember) Randle’s production came in a conservative LSU offense. Here’s a table showing their relative 2011 statistics:

Rogers Randle
SEC Opponents Rec Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD
Florida 5.0 62.0 12.4 1.0 4.0 127.0 31.8 1.0
Georgia 5.0 71.0 14.2 - 2.0 15.0 7.5 -
Alabama 2.0 32.0 16.0 - 2.0 19.0 9.5 -
Arkansas 5.0 106.0 21.2 - 9.0 134.0 14.9 -
Kentucky 2.0 38.0 19.0 - 1.0 37.0 37.0 -
Per Game Avg 3.8 61.8 16.3 0.2 3.6 66.4 18.4 0.2

Their production was close, but Randle’s was better. Yes, Randle was chosen in the second round last year, and he did have a big game in Week 17 (for whatever that’s worth), and he could certainly develop into a great player in the future—but he did nothing in his first NFL season, and last year Ramses Barden and Domenik Hixon also put up big games for the Giants. Randle represents Rogers’ upside, and right now the full height of that upside is uncertain—but that upside did nothing in its first year, which is exactly what Rogers is likely to do as an undrafted WR.

The perception exists that Rogers has great size and athleticism—although guys who are in the neighborhood of 217 lbs. and a 4.52 40 time come along fairly often (this year alone we have Cordarrelle Patterson, DeAndre Hopkins, Aaron Mellette, Marcus Davis, Mark Harrison, Chris Harper, Cobi Hamilton, and Rodney Smith)—but whatever size and athleticism Rogers does have doesn’t translate to on-field production. To wit, in SEC competition he couldn’t even match the production of (the albeit potentially underrated) Jarius Wright—the lesser Harvin- esque receiver (without the same speed or rushing skills) who was drafted in the fourth round last year. In 2011 Rogers and Wright had four SEC games against common opponents. Here’s a table showing their relative statistics in those games.

Rogers Wright
SEC Opponents Rec Yds Avg TD Rec Yds Avg TD
Louisiana State 3.0 63.0 21.0 - 2.0 27.0 13.5 1.0
Alabama 2.0 32.0 16.0 - 4.0 26.0 6.5 -
South Carolina 4.0 35.0 8.8 - 4.0 103.0 25.8 2.0
Vanderbilt 10.0 116.0 11.6 2.0 10.0 135.0 13.5 1.0
Per Game Avg 4.8 61.5 12.9 0.5 5.0 72.8 14.6 1.0

Even with his dominant Vanderbilt game included in this four-game sample, Rogers is strongly outperformed by Wright. Even as a so-called red-zone threat and the focal point of his passing offense, Rogers couldn’t outdo a significantly smaller guy who had to function within an offense that spread the ball around freely to different receivers.

What does all of this suggest? Rogers’ athleticism may mean he has the NFL upside of Rueben Randle, but his SEC production implies his upside may not even be that of Jarius Wright’s. He played in the SEC, but, based on his 2011 productivity patterns, I feel justified in saying this—Da’Rick Rogers has not yet proven himself to be a player. He recorded 67 receptions for 1040 yards and 9 TDs in 2011, and that production counts for something, but considering the teams against which he “earned” the bulk of his production I don’t think it counts for much, and NFL teams seem to agree.

And, besides, in 2012 Rogers regressed—undeniably. Despite playing in the FCS, Rogers produced worse stats. A variety of explanations exist: He transferred to the school shortly before the season started and so had little time to learn the offense, the starting QB missed the last four games of the season and the backup sucked, etc. Jon Moore explores Rogers’ 2012 season here—and Jon has some good points—but I still have concerns about his regression.

For the first seven games of the 2012 season, Rogers played with Tre Lamb at QB, and Rogers did well—sort of. In those seven games he recorded 45 receptions for 716 yards and 8 TDs, which prorates to a 12-game season of 77 receptions for 1227 yards and 14 TDs. That’s great production. Of course—and you know this is coming—Rogers got 18 of those receptions, 303 of those yards, and 2 of those TDs in 1 game. And his second best game in this seven-game span netted him another three TDs. In sum, over the entire season, Rogers recorded only one 100-yard game, and he acquired half of his TDs in two games. Playing in the FCS, Rogers couldn’t dominate consistently against weak competition, and as he did in 2011 he beat up the weakest opponents on his schedule and then just went through the motions against everybody else. That’s not what future NFL starters do.

After Lamb’s injury, Tre Stone started the last four games of the season—and the perception is that he was awful. He was at first, but he got progressively better, and over his four-game span of starts he managed still to average 2 TDs per game. Rogers, though, did not do well with Stone at QB. As Moore points out, Rogers’ production plummeted—not just his raw statistics, but also his market share, his production relative to the other receivers in his offense. Think about that for a second. The starting QB is injured, the backup becomes the starter, and the one guy on the offense who should be his security blanket—the ostensible #1 WR on the team—sees a drop in production. Why? Because Rogers is not a QB’s best friend. He’s inconsistent. At the one point in the 2012 season when he should have stepped up his game within his offense, he took a step back, and the backup QB looked elsewhere in his offense for production and dependability. Is Rogers’ lack of production with Stone unquestionably Rogers’ fault? No. Perhaps he and the backup just didn’t have good chemistry. But does that lack of production fit in with the patterns of productivity Rogers has exhibited throughout his collegiate career? Absolutely.

Can you imagine Julio Jones going to the FCS and putting up only a 69-893-10 season, regardless of who was throwing him the ball? Not only would Julio have recorded a game like Rogers’ 18-303-2 performance against SE Missouri State—he would’ve put up more huge games, given the teams on his schedule. As suspect as I think Rogers’ 2011 season was, his 2012 season was even worse. He could turn into a solid NFL player, perhaps even a Pro-Bowl receiver, but based on how he played in 2011 and 2012, and now his draft position, I wouldn’t bet on it.

I would, though, bet on Ryan Swope. Not only does he have a brand of athleticism I believe is rarer than Rogers’—not many guys over 200 lbs. run the 40 in under 4.40 seconds—but he also had consistent and I dare say outstanding production in 2011 and 2012. At first glance, Swope regressed from 2011 to 2012, but a closer examination shows that the guy who had 89 receptions in 2011 for 1207 yards and 11 TDs as Ryan Tannehill’s primary WR was still a fantastic player in 2012 despite undergoing a transitional period of his own—new coach, new QB, and new conference—and even though Swope did not do well at points in the season with Johnny Manziel as his QB (the first week in particular sucked) the WR improved as the season progressed and against the best teams on his schedule he played his best football. In his final game, he had a solid 8-104-1 performance to help his team defeat former Big-12 rival Oklahoma. That sounds like an NFL WR.

Although Swope recorded only 72 catches for 913 yards and 8 TDs across 13 games in 2012, his final collegiate season was stellar. I don’t care that he managed only 2 receptions for 9 yards against South Carolina St., or 1 reception for 5 yards against Louisiana Tech, or 1 reception for 6 yards against Sam Houston St. Why? Because against the SEC he dominated. Even when one includes Swope’s first game of the season, his horrible 5-16-0 “performance” against Florida, Swope was the best SEC receiver of 2012. Here’s the table:

SEC Opponents Rec Yds Avg TD
Florida 5.0 16.0 3.2 -
Arkansas 5.0 141.0 28.2 1.0
Mississippi 2.0 58.0 29.0 1.0
Louisiana State 10.0 81.0 8.1 -
Auburn 6.0 140.0 23.3 2.0
Mississippi State 9.0 121.0 13.4 -
Alabama 11.0 111.0 10.1 1.0
Missouri 7.0 51.0 7.3 1.0
Per Game Avg 6.9 89.9 13.1 0.8

Swope is the anti-Rogers. Whereas Rogers destroyed non-conference opponents and floundered in the SEC, Swope destroyed the SEC and did nothing in the games that really didn’t matter. In other words, when his team needed him most, he produced.

How did he do compared to other SEC WRs in this year’s draft? Over the course of all SEC games, only Cobi Hamilton managed more receiving yards—but he scored only 1 TD. RotoViz favorite Chad Bumphis managed more receiving TDs—but Swope had more receiving yards. Cordarrelle Patterson indeed had 1 more TD than Swope—but only 3 of those were receiving scores, and Swope’s receiving yardage is more than Patterson’s scrimmage yardage. Justin Hunter’s yards and TDs aren’t anywhere close to Swope’s—and, for that matter, neither is his 40 time. In fact, he was the fastest SEC receiver at the combine. Shawn Siegele gives Swope a Height-Adjusted Speed Score of 114, identical to Patterson’s, just outside the scores Shawn considers elite.

What else do I have to say about Swope? Like Antonio Brown in 2010, Swope will likely provide the value of a late first-round pick at the price of a third rounder. He’s this year’s T.Y. Hilton, except he’s bigger and was drafted three rounds later. He may not break out right away, but Andre Roberts is in the last year of his contract and he’s not Arians’ prospect anyway. In fact, for those not impressed with Michael Floyd, Swope could become the guy to target as the #2WR across from Larry Fitzgerald. Compared to Roberts and Floyd, I think Swope looks pretty good. And compared to Da’Rick Rogers . . . it’s really no comparison. One was the best SEC WR in 2012. The other wasn’t even 2012’s best FCS receiver. Really, between these two SEC players, there’s no comparison. Swope was drafted by Arians, and Rogers wasn’t drafted at all. That says it all.

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