Image via Parker Anderson/Flickr

Image via Parker Anderson/Flickr

What if Sammy Watkins isn’t the best receiver in the 2014 NFL Draft?

I know that goes against everything you’ve been reading and everything that ESPN has been saying, but let’s just pretend that it’s a possibility.  Hypothetically, if Sammy Watkins isn’t the best receiver in this class, then who is?  One might make a case for Allen Robinson, which I could see.  Probably the most likely contender for the throne is  Mike Evans, which would be totally understandable.  The other guy in the picture would likely be Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews.  However, when we compare apples to apples, Matthews was far more productive than Evans.  If Matthews’ performed better than the consensus #2 option (Evans), maybe it would be fun to compare Matthews against the consensus #1 option, Sammy Watkins.  This ought to be fun…

By most accounts Sammy Watkins is a dynamic athlete with rare physical attributes.  Conversely, Jordan Matthews tends to get the “possession receiver” treatment when it comes to his athleticism– nothing special, but definitely usable.  Let’s see how they compare:

WR
Ht
Wt
Arm
Hand
40
VJ
BJ
3cone
Shuttle
Jordan Matthews7521233.310.44.4635.51206.954.18
Sammy Watkins7321132.09.64.4334.01266.954.34

Hmm, that’s strange.  The two players have almost identical physical attributes.  You can double check my math, but the fact of the matter is that Matthews is every bit the athlete that Sammy is.  At the very least, this dispels the notion that Watkins is on a completely different level–athletically–than Matthews.  At “worst”, this proves to be a dissonant moment for everyone in camp Watkins.  How can it be possible that the pedestrian Matthews can match Sammy’s athleticism?

Jon, I don’t care what your numbers say, where Watkins’ athleticism shows up is ON THE FIELD!!

Yes, dear reader, that’s a great point, let’s take a look at what Watkins and Matthews did on the field.  You might be surprised to learn that between 2011 and 2013, the two played common opponents in the same season on eight occasions. Yes, really, EIGHT! Here is what they did on the field in those eight games.  Note that there was a perfect 50/50 split between ACC/SEC opponents.

WR
Avg Age
Rec
Rec Yards
YPR
Rec TD
MS Rec Yards
Jordan Matthews20.417.39513.10.552.4%
Sammy Watkins19.516.49815.40.533.0%

WOW! How’s that for a close call? On the field, Matthews and Watkins were nearly identical in those eight games. Where Matthews shines through is that he accounted for nearly 20% more of his team’s passing offense than Watkins did. The way I interpret this is that Matthews produced the same raw stats as Watkins while shouldering much more of the burden. Pretty impressive. Maybe you could point to Watkins having a higher YPR and say that’s where his athleticism shows up. To the contrary I would say that by commanding 53% of his team’s passing yards Matthews’ attracted more attention from the defense and had less room to work. Not sure if there’s anything to be learned there. To Watkins’ credit, he was nearly a year younger than Matthews while playing these eight games, which is a testament to his ability.

If we think about these eight games as matchups, the following table represents who “won” the matchups. We’ll look at both raw stats and market share stats by game to determine the winners. Note that SOS represents the quality of defense faced in the games they won. Lower is better.

WR
Avg Age
Rec. Yds Wins
MS RecYds Wins
Rec. SOS
Jordan Matthews20.414648.5
Sammy Watkins19.514251.5

Like the previous table, this matchup is once again a close call. The two split the raw-yardage matchup but Matthews carries the day from a market share perspective.

So, what does this all mean? For starters, Jordan Matthews is a very similar athlete to Sammy Watkins. That may come as a surprise to you, but the numbers verify it and the on-field production doesn’t do anything to dispel it. Maybe there’s a chance that Watkins had an off day at the combine, but if there really is some extraordinary athleticism in his body, moreso than Matthews, I would love to know where it shows up.  At least for these 8 games (roughly 25% of Watkins’ career) it didn’t make much of a difference on the field. Like it or not, Jordan Matthews appears to be similar in Sammy Watkins in more ways than anyone wants to acknowledge.

WR
Age
Opponent (def. rk)
RECyds
RECtd
MSrecYD
RECyds win
MSrecYD win
Jordan Matthews19.36Wake Forest (69)79142.9%XX
Sammy Watkins18.41Wake Forest (69)62018.1%
Jordan Matthews19.18S. Carolina (9)608.2%
Sammy Watkins
18.45S. Carolina (9)39047.0%XX
Jordan Matthews20.36Wake Forest (63)144162.9%X
Sammy Watkins19.36Wake Forest (63)202146.6%X
Jordan Matthews20.46NC State (60)61156.5%X
Sammy Watkins19.43NC State (60)110125.8%X
Jordan Matthews20.12S. Carolina (5)147168.7%XX
Sammy Watkins19.45S. Carolina (5)37020.2
Jordan Matthews21.26Georgia (84)89040.8%
Sammy Watkins20.21Georgia (84)127147%XX
Jordan Matthews21.37Wake Forest (62)125046.1%XX
Sammy Watkins20.29Wake Forest (62)113127.7%
Jordan Matthews21.16S. Carolina (45)106072.1%XX
Sammy Watkins20.46S. Carolina (45)93041.3%


Jon Moore is a contributor at RotoViz and a coach at RotoAcademy.  Continue this conversation with him on Twitter or Google+.

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