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Is Marcus Easley the Next Miles Austin?—And What Exactly Does the Preseason Mean? (Part 2)

marcuseasley

In my last article I presented my general impressions of preseason breakouts, based upon my review of preseason receiving data from 2004 to the present:

  1. We watch the preseason to gain insight as to how unproven players may perform in the future.
  2. Week 4 is almost meaningless.
  3. Bigger WRs are generally better.
  4. Some stats matter more than others.

What made me pour through almost 600 games of almost a decade’s worth of preseason data? I want to know—as best I can—if Marcus Easley’s 7-94-0 stat line in Week 1 means that he might be ready to be a regular-season contributor in the future.

To that end, I have created a screener to see how players similar to Easley faired. I should say here that I believe this data provides some guidance as to (but does not predict) what Easley’s future could be. If you want to use this data predictively, that’s your choice. I’m choosing to treat it more descriptively.

Now, Marcus Easley had a Week 1 preseason stat line of 7-94-0. He will be 26 in the 2013 regular season, and although the Bills website has him currently listed at 6’2” and 217 lbs I prefer to use his Combine measurements of 6’3” and 210 lbs since they’re verified and I know what he could do athletically at that weight. He was a fourth-round draft pick in 2010, and in the three years since being drafted he is yet to produce a top-30 season. In his final year of college, Easley captured a 46% market share of his team’s total receiving production.

With this information, I’ve screened for players using these criteria:

  1. A WR must have at least one preseason game of 50-150 yards on 5-9 catches.
  2. A WR must be 24-28 years old in the regular season following his preseason breakout.
  3. A WR must be 72-78 inches tall and 195-225 lbs in weight.
  4. A WR must not have produced a top-30 season in any of the three years prior to his preseason breakout.
  5. A WR must be a player from whom fantasy players will tend not to expect a potential breakout. Thus, if a player is yet to reach his fourth NFL season, he must have entered the NFL as no higher than a fourth-round pick—unless the team that drafted him originally has already cut him. For a young player, any higher than a fourth-round pick is too high for this screen—if someone like Jonathan Baldwin (who is unlikely to break out), Stephen Hill (about whom I have recently been incredulous), or even Stedman Bailey (who could perform like a second-round pick) breaks out soon, it won’t be a big deal—people will be looking for it. But if the breakout player is someone like Aldrick Robinson (with whom I have no problem) or Kealoha Pilares (who is way off the fantasy radar), most people (a.k.a. people who don’t read RotoViz) will be very surprised. But if a player has advanced to his fourth year without breaking out yet, then his original draft status is irrelevant: He will be a player from whom people expect little.
  6. A WR must have his preseason breakout in any week besides Week 4, which is a fluky week and (based on my quick glance) would add many names to the pool of candidates and provide maybe only one positive result. I know this criterion may compromise the “integrity” of the screener, but I don’t think I’m being “biasedly selective.” I’m really just trying to eliminate noise, and my impression is that Week 4 preseason stats are noise, while those accumulated before Week 4 might not be.

And maybe one more criterion, just to give the screener some teeth so that we know we’re looking at guys who at least possessed legit NFL potential when they entered the league:

  1. A WR must have a total final-year collegiate market share (Dominator Rating) between 0.36 and 0.56, which (according to this groundbreaking piece by Shawn Siegele) is a range suggestive of potential that warrants anywhere from an early-second-round selection to a top-10 pick in any given NFL draft. For WRs, I have decided to use final-year (instead of best-year) market share since most of us at RotoViz believe WR is a position requiring more development than, say, RB, and so in general (although exceptions will exist) we prefer to privilege the stats from a receiver’s last college season in order to track collegiate development.

OK, what were the results of the screener? First of all, here are guys who qualified:

Name

Rec

Yards

Avg

TD

Long

Targets

Team

Year

Week

Age

J. Jones

5

63

12.6

1

24

7

Texans

2010

3

26

P. Crayton

5

82

16.4

0

43

NA

Cowboys

2005

2

26

M. Austin

5

64

12.8

0

21

NA

Cowboys

2008

1

24

C. Henry

7

100

14.3

1

39

9

Bengals

2009

1

26

C. Shorts III

5

52

10.4

0

16

6

Jaguars

2011

2

24

J. Gage

6

57

9.5

1

14

8

Titans

2009

3

28

J. Nelson

5

65

13

0

34

5

Packers

2011

3

26

J. Pruitt

6

52

8.7

0

22

8

Bucs

2012

1

27

M. Easley

5

51

10.2

1

15

7

Bills

2011

3

24

K. Ogletree

5

75

15

0

25

6

Cowboys

2012

3

24

K. Walter

6

100

16.7

1

27

NA

Texans

2008

2

27

K. Walter

6

61

10.2

1

23

NA

Texans

2008

3

27

R. Hoag

5

63

12.6

0

25

NA

Vikings

2005

1

26

V. Cruz

6

145

24.2

3

64

7

Giants

2010

1

24

J. Farris

5

65

13

0

22

NA

Redskins

2006

2

28

L. Robinson

5

65

13

0

25

8

Rams

2009

2

24

C. Jackson

5

52

10.4

0

26

8

Bills

2010

2

25

C. Martin

5

67

13.4

0

17

6

Chargers

2009

1

25

J. Avant

5

92

18.4

0

28

9

Eagles

2009

3

26

B. Robiskie

7

72

10.3

1

22

10

Jaguars

2012

1

25

Average

5.45

72.15

13.24

0.5

26.6

7.43

NA

NA

2

25.6

Median

5

65

13

0

24.5

7.5

NA

NA

2

26

Players Factored

20

20

20

20

20

14

NA

NA

20

20

K. Ogletree

5

65

13

0

22

8

Bucs

2013

1

25

L. Jean

6

52

8.7

1

14

9

Texans

2013

1

25

M. Easley

7

94

13.4

0

29

7

Bills

2013

1

26

 

Twenty players from previous seasons are present—nineteen if you don’t count Kevin Walter twice. Also, note that two other players from the 2013 preseason would be in this Easley-centric cohort if their stats had been achieved in another year: Kevin Ogletree and Lestar Jean. A couple points of interest:

1) Both Ogletree and Easley are already in the cohort. In other words, Easley is a comp for himself. Two years ago in the (“all-important”) third game of the preseason Easley posted a 5-51-1 stat line—and his production came while playing with the first-team unit and leading it in receptions. In other words, in 2011 the Bills were expecting Easley to be a significant part of their passing offense that season. And then he was placed on IR for the second year in a rowthis time with a heart condition. Eventually Easley was cleared to return to football, and here we are. His presence in the cohort doesn’t mean that he’s bound to breakout—but it does suggest that his 7-94-0 stat line in Week 1 of the 2013 preseason wasn’t totally a fluke, since he’s already done it before. This ain’t his furst ro-day-oh.

2) This group seems to be a good approximation for Easley. The average age matches his (note that his age at PFR is inccorect—he’ll be 26 this season according to his RotoWorld profile and his Bills profile), and the composite cohort player had a preseason performance that closely matched Easley’s (the receiving average is very similar), except that Easley’s was a couple of receptions better. Still, this cohort—at least in its age and preseason exploits—represents Easley quite well.

And what about the cohort’s draft status, measurables, and college production? Here it is:

Name Draft Year Round Pick Ht Wt 40 T Speed Score MsYds MsTDs TotMS
J. Jones

2007

3

73

75

210

4.5

102.42

??

??

??

P. Crayton

2004

7

216

73

207

4.52

99.19

??

??

??

M. Austin

2006

8

256

74

215

4.47

107.71

0.51

0.58

0.55

C. Henry

2005

3

83

76

197

4.5

96.08

0.47

0.6

0.54

C. Shorts III

2011

4

114

72

205

4.59

92.37

0.4

0.6

0.5

J. Gage

2003

5

143

76

203

4.45

103.54

0.44

0.56

0.5

J. Nelson

2008

2

36

75

215

4.51

103.94

0.47

0.52

0.50

J. Pruitt

2009

8

257

74

206

4.4

109.92

0.43

0.55

0.49

M. Easley

2010

4

107

75

210

4.46

106.15

0.35

0.57

0.46

K. Ogletree

2009

8

257

73

196

4.46

99.07

0.29

0.56

0.43

K. Walter

2003

7

255

75

225

NA

NA

0.46

0.39

0.43

K. Walter

2003

7

255

75

225

NA

NA

0.46

0.39

0.43

R. Hoag

2003

7

262

74

200

4.51

96.68

0.37

0.48

0.43

V. Cruz

2010

8

256

72

206

4.47

103.20

0.34

0.46

0.4

J. Farris

2001

7

247

72

200

NA

NA

0.33

0.45

0.39

L. Robinson

2007

3

75

74

199

4.38

108.14

0.34

0.44

0.39

C. Jackson

2006

2

36

73

213

4.32

122.31

0.33

0.45

0.39

C. Martin

2009

8

257

73

205

NA

NA

0.34

0.42

0.38

J. Avant

2006

4

109

73

212

4.62

93.07

0.4

0.35

0.38

B. Robiskie

2009

2

36

75

209

4.59

94.17

0.27

0.47

0.37

Average

NA

5.35

166.5

73.95

207.9

4.48

102.82

0.39

0.49

0.44

Median

NA

6

179.5

74

206.5

4.49

102.07

0.39

0.48

0.43

Players Factored

NA

20

20

20

20

16

16

18

18

18

K. Ogletree

2009

Und

Und

73

196

4.46

99.07

0.29

0.56

0.43

L. Jean

2011

Und

Und

75

215

4.65

91.97

0.4

0.47

0.44

M. Easley

2010

4

107

75

210

4.46

106.15

0.35

0.57

0.46

 

Compared to the cohort, Easley looks good—he’s similar to the composite player, except a little bit better. Even if one discounts his superior draft status (it probably doesn’t mean much at this point in his career), he’s taller, bigger, and faster, and he had slightly better total market share when he entered the league. At the very least, out of all the players in this group Easley was one of the best prospects coming into the league.

And now for the moment of truth? How did this group do in the regular seasons that followed their preseason breakout games. Here’s the table:

 

Name

N-3

N-2

N-1

N

N+1

N+2

N+3

N+4

J. Jones

PR

PR

PR

62

67

86

??

??

P. Crayton

NA

NA

110

PR

55

34

49

41

M. Austin

NA

KR

KR

KR

3

12

43

26

C. Henry

31

83

91

88

Dead

Dead

Dead

Dead

C. Shorts III

NA

NA

NA

142

22

??

??

??

J. Gage

123

50

37

71

103

Out

Out

??

J. Nelson

82

KR/PR

KR

2

29

??

??

??

J. Pruitt

Pr Sq

Pr Sq

No Stats

Out

??

??

??

??

M. Easley

NA

NA

Inj

Inj

214

??

??

??

K. Ogletree

119

152

127

65

??

??

??

??

K. Walter

96

108

36

19

61

48

66

72

K. Walter

96

108

36

19

61

48

66

72

R. Hoag

NA

Pr Sq

Pr Sq

Out

Out

Out

Out

Out

V. Cruz

NA

NA

NA

Inj

4

13

??

??

J. Farris

103

178

148

Out

179

Out

Out

Out

L. Robinson

NA

79

139

101

85

15

119

??

C. Jackson

171

150

Out

Out

Out

Out

??

??

C. Martin

NA

NA

NA

147

No Stats

No Stats

172

??

J. Avant

114

90

80

60

71

62

70

??

B. Robiskie

117

82

175

148

??

??

??

??

Average

105.2

108

97.9

77

73.38462

39.75

83.57143

52.75

Median

108.5

99

100.5

68

61

41

66

56.5

Players Factored

10

10

10

12

13

8

7

4

K. Ogletree

152

127

65

??

??

??

??

??

L. Jean

NA

Inj

126

??

??

??

??

??

M. Easley

Inj

Inj

KR

??

??

??

??

??

 

Regardless of how they do as individuals, this group presents an intriguing trend. For the three seasons preceding the breakout game, the players (who actually play as WRs) sport a collective positional ranking of roughly 100. In the two seasons immediately after the breakout game, the active WRs have a collective positional ranking in the 60s and 70s. And in the third subsequent season, the collective positional ranking for the active WRs is about 40—which (to me) seems pretty high for a group of guys pulled together almost at random.

And how many of these 20 guys (or 19, if we don’t count Walter twice) actually submit top-30 seasons after the preseason breakout? With Walter accounted for twice, 7; otherwise, 6. Either way, about 1 out of every 3 of these guys has become a top-30 WR. Again, I think that’s pretty good for a group of dudes from whom little was expected and who were gathered together based on only one game of data. At a minimum, the breakout game in this cohort seems to indicate that the WR is capable of contributing to his team’s offense more than he has previously.

How does Easley compare explicitly with the subgroup of isolated top-30 players? The median total market share for that group is 0.46—exactly the same as Easley’s. And with similar height and weight, Easley sports a speed score of 106.15, which very close to the group’s average of 105.31 and median of 107.71. Does Easley look a lot like the preseason breakouts who eventually had regular-season success? Yes. Will Easley be a top-30 player? Who knows—but he probably has a better chance than many people realize.

Although Easley (currently 25 years old) will in November turn 26 (an age that feels a little old for a breakout), remember that Austin, Cruz, and Shorts broke out at 25; Nelson and Robinson at 26; and Walter at 27. As far as his age goes, Easley still has time to find top-30 success.

The question is whether Easley still has the opportunity. At present Easley’s path to success seems blocked, but upon review one will see that he plays on a team that—despite hoarding receivers—still is thin at the position. Stevie Johnson, though just 27, seems to have a body always on the verge of breaking down. And after him there’s the steady-but-uninspiring rookie Robert Woods, the inspiring-but-unsteady rookie Da’Rick Rogers, the two smallish speedsters T.J. Graham and Marquise Goodwin, and the old wildcat veteran Brad Smith. Do we really know that the large-and-athletic Easley can’t win a roster spot and eventually take the WR3 job? Do we really know that, if Stevie Johnson were injured, Easley wouldn’t explode onto the scene as a fill-in starter and become a top-30 player in his fourth season? It’s not inconceivable that a guy who was a kick returner one year could a breakout receiver the next year.

After all, that’s exactly what happened to Miles Austin. In 2008, Austin contributed mainly as a kick returner, catching only 13 passes. In 2009, when the Johnson-esque Roy Williams went down with an injury early in the season, Austin—not Patrick Crayton, Sam Hurd, Kevin Ogletree, or even Jason Witten—replaced the lost production. It came out of nowhere . . . except it didn’t.

I’m not saying that Marcus Easley will be the next Miles Austin. I’m only saying that, based on the data here, he probably has a better chance than people realize of becoming an eventual fantasy asset (especially in dynasty leagues)—and, if he does become the next Miles Austin, I won’t be surprised, and hopefully you will have beneficially received a large serving of that tasty dish all of us fantasy players crave: Hot Value.

In other words, let’s see what Marcus Easley does for the rest of the preseason. For him, these next few games definitely matter.

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By Matthew Freedman | @MattFtheOracle | Archive

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