2014 NFL Draft: Three Holy Grail Components to Wide Receiver Evaluation
Recently Jon Moore, with a little help from Ryan Rouillard and Coleman Kelly, began to put together a WR database for the RotoViz writers to peruse. (All three of these gentlemen are going to be big time stars in the fantasy writing game if they choose to pursue it long term.)
The database includes every receiver from 2006 onward. While previous research has demonstrated that weight and receiving market share are undervalued at draft time, I thought it would be interesting to show the exact profile of hits versus misses.
I started by dividing the receivers into three categories. Many of the recent receivers I labeled as “unclear” because I didn’t want my preconceived notions about their likelihood for success to bias the results. I rejected them from the sample. I also eliminated undrafted players. The sample then represented 137 players.
Although we’ll go into great detail on a variety of target-related stats later in the offseason, I’m looking at very simple things for this first pass through the data. For physical traits, I inspected height, weight, age, 40, and vertical. For on-field performance, I used the Dominator Rating or a player’s market share of his team’s receiving totals. DR is the average of market share touchdowns and market share yardage. (While they end up not making a big impact in the final analysis, I also included my combined metric for athleticism, the Height-adjusted Speed Score, as well as Red Zone TD Rate.)
Even to an arch-skeptic of scouting, these results are beyond shocking. Let me break it down.
- Busts are actually faster than their successful counterparts. This doesn’t mean that speed is unimportant as we’ll see in a minute. It just means it’s slightly overvalued.
- The hits are slightly taller and jump slightly better than the misses, but the difference is basically negligible. Those traits, while important, are valued correctly.
- The hits weigh about 4.5 pounds more than the misses. That’s a pretty big margin.
- The hits are six months younger. That’s a huge margin.
- The hits represented nearly 40% of their college team’s receiving market share. The misses slightly less than 30%. That’s a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon. It’s basically the whole ballgame.
Okay, that seems fairly straight forward, but it lumps all the receivers in together. We might see some very different patterns if we break it down by round.
|Pick||Height||Weight||Age||40||Vert||HaSS||DR||RZ TD%||% of Players|
In Round 1, the overall traits of hits and misses are exaggerated. The busts are much faster than the hits, and they jump higher. Unfortunately for the busts, they are lighter, older, and represent a much smaller percentage of their teams’ receiving offenses.
The good news: Two-thirds of the first round players are hits, not an unbelievable success rate but solid. Moreover, the hits averaged pick 18.1, whereas the misses came mostly at the tail end. This would suggest scouts and GMs are relatively accurate in deducing the “sure thing” type of receiver. It’s when they reach for “athletes” at the end of the first round that they tend to miss. Although Cordarrelle Patterson looked very good down the stretch in 2013, this should terrify Vikings fans.
|RD 2||Pick||Height||Weight||Age||40||Vert||HaSS||DR||RZ TD%||% of Players|
Round 2 is a little strange in that this is the one area where the busts actually weigh more than the hits. Otherwise, we see the same general trends. The successful players are slightly younger and own a better Dominator Rating, although the gaps aren’t quite as large as they were in the first round.
The bad news: Misses were taken earlier than hits. And more than half of the players selected were misses. So . . . anybody want to go back and trade for Josh Gordon?
In the contemporary NFL, general managers tend to overvalue draft picks. If your team needs help at wide receiver, you better hope your GM is either heavily into analytics or that the brain trust addresses the position in the first round. (Preferably both.) Using an early second round pick at the position has a better than 50/50 chance to fail.
|RD 3||Pick||Height||Weight||Age||40||Vert||HaSS||DR||RZ TD%||% of Players|
As we get into Round 3, we’re seeing the profile of both hits and misses get lighter, older, and slower. That’s what I meant when I suggested that some of those characteristics are important but fully valued.
In Round 3, we see our largest skewing in terms of the impact of the Dominator Rating. Receivers who hit out of Round 3 are collegiate stars, almost to the same level as the players in Round 1. You could look at this as a positive indicator for a guy like Stedman Bailey. The busts in Round 3 had the same market share profile as their brethren in Rounds 4-7, which we’ll get to in a moment.
Most importantly, we again see that draft picks are overvalued. A full 75% of receivers drafted in the third round make a minimal impact. And you can’t blame it on receivers being selected late in the third round either. The busts are selected slightly earlier in the round than the hits.
|RD 4-7||Height||Weight||Age||40||Vert||HaSS||DR||RZ TD%||% of Players|
If you didn’t see the value of analytics before, I think this final chart makes it blatantly obvious. The height/speed/leaping profiles of busts in Rounds 4-7 are actually slightly better than the average profiles of the Round 3 busts (what didn’t have any predictive value in Round 3, still doesn’t).
The hits are few and far between. If your GM didn’t take a wide receiver in the first three rounds, he might as well wait for the rookie free agent pool. But of the small number of guys who do pan out, they tend to be heavier, more than a year younger, and again represent a larger portion of their team’s receiving value.
When you’re watching this year’s draft, you now possess some important pieces of actionable info that even your team’s general manager probably does not. While speed is important – all other things being equal, you’d prefer a fast guy to a slow guy any day – it’s slightly overvalued. On the other hand, teams are not valuing weight, age, and Dominator Rating nearly enough.
It will be interesting to see how this year’s draft plays out. The top two prospects – Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans – have age on their side, but their Dominator Ratings are both right at the average of first round misses. I’m just like most everybody else. When I see those two guys play, it’s hard not to get excited. And I hear myself thinking the same thing GMs always think right before they make a bad pick: maybe this time it will be different.
Maybe it will.
If you found yourself intrigued by these predictive metrics, make sure to check out the fourth component in Keenan Allen, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Why Breakout Age is the Skeleton Key.