Visualizing the Careers of 2015 NFL Draft Receivers
At some point in time the RotoViz tagline was seeing is believing.
From a writer’s perspective, I’ve recently realized that showing can be a lot easier than explaining, so that’s what I’m going to do here.
Continuing with the groundwork laid in the I Don’t Hate Old Wide Receivers article, here is a series of images that shows how the top 25 receivers in the 2015 NFL Draft class progressed throughout their career. Note that these top 25 were derived from PlayTheDraft.com, which is a stock market for prospects, so the 25 you see here are the ones with the highest current market value. As far as the tiers, they’re just in hierarchical groups of five and represent the “market’s value”, not mine.
As for the trend line, that was created by plotting the college careers of receivers drafted since 2006 who have posted a 150pt fantasy season. The trend line represents what those guys were doing in college in terms of age and market share of receiving yards.
All ages are pulled from the 2015 NFL Draft Age Database.
Amari Cooper is the winner here, with all three of his seasons plotting above the line, which basically means he’s played like an eventual WR1 since his first season at Alabama. Cooper was the best of this cohort at age 18 and 20 and is almost certainly going to be my top ranked WR for 2015. Jaelen Strong also looks solid here, with both of his two seasons on the trend line, similar to what Mike Evans had going for him last year. Devin Funchess poses a conundrum for a couple reasons, namely because of his mid-college position change and his low raw stats, but it’s encouraging that he climbed so dramatically over his college career. Devante Parker has been strong in the touchdown department for years, but only dominated the yards in his final season, which was REALLY good, but also a big enigmatic due to the fact that he played in only six games. And then there’s Kevin White, who came out of nowhere in 2014 to enter the first-round discussion. Note that Cooper, Funchess and Strong all completed their college careers at a younger age than when Kevin White caught his first collegiate pass. Color me somewhat skeptical on him.
Outside Sammie Coates and Nelson Agholor, this tier feels like a bunch of guys the media is trying to prop up. I’ve already written about why Sammie Coates is boom or bust and the plot matches that description. Nelson Agholor is probably the winner of this tier, as he’s steadily improved over the years while hovering close to the trend line for the last two seasons. Rashad Greene was good four seasons ago, but seems more NFL useful than anything else. Is Dorial Green Beckham the next Calvin Johnson? Appearing on the plot as DGB, you can see that, despite his elite billing, he’s never realized that potential on the field. Then again, if the 6’6 220lb prospect turns out to have rare physical attributes, this underwhelming plot might not matter. And then there’s Devin Smith, who I touched on in the National Championship preview and like as a role player, but would hate to spend a first round pick to acquire.
Hello, Tyler Lockett. The Kansas State receiver wins this tier, with two seasons above the line and another two fairly close. He might have four of the best six seasons on this plot and was the “age winner” at ages 19, 20, 21 and 22. Ty Montgomery is the only other player with a season above the line and I’m actually somewhat optimistic about his ability to contribute in the NFL. Stay tuned for an article on him. Like Rashad Greene before him, Justin Hardy was good several years ago, but might be maxed as a prospect and more suited to being a role player. In case you missed it, Mel Kiper Jr. recently named Phillip Dorsett his #4 ranked receiver in this class, which I find to be baffling; he doesn’t look like anything special to me. Finally, there’s Josh Harper (from Fresno State, not Cal) whose presence in this tier seems unwarranted.
Let’s call this the multi-threat tier, as all five of these guys have made notable contributions to their teams outside the receiving game, whether that be in the run, return or defensive facets of the game. Flying under the radar, Stefon Diggs and Jamison Crowder both have three seasons above the line, which I think signifies their dynamic playmaking ability. Quietly, Diggs’ debut season ranked #8 in the most precocious college receiver seasons of the decade, but he’s failed to sustain that success. A bit undersized, Diggs is a question mark because of his health and his lack of raw production over the last two seasons. Jamison Crowder is the “age winner” for ages 20 and 21 and got rave reviews at the senior bowl. I don’t want to call him a poor man’s Brandin Cooks, because that’s not fair to either player, but I can see Crowder pushing to be my favorite small receiver in the class. Dres Anderson is an overlooked name, but might be more deserving of attention. He went over 1,000 yards in 2013 and accumulated 2200 yards and 18 touchdowns from scrimmage over his career, but missed a large part of his final season due to injury. At 6’2 190lbs, he’s one of many lanky, but interesting receivers in this class. Ditto for Tony Lippett, who was a two way star in 2014, playing both WR and CB. Finally, for Antwan Goodley, I don’t have much hope, but Baylor has a nice streak of churning out NFL receiver talent, so there’s that.
Alas, we arrive at the player who I think is most underrated in this receiver class, Titus Davis. The Central Michigan star has three seasons above the trend line and ranks 33rd on the career receiving yards list. Although he’s only the second-best receiver in his family, I believe Titus has a good chance to stick in the NFL. UNLV receiver Devante Davis was really solid in his age 20 and 21 seasons before an injury-riddled 2014. I’m not sure about his athleticism, but at 6’3 220lbs, he’s one of the few big-bodied receiver options to be had after tier 1. Despite declaring early, Deontay Greenberry has been fairly under-the-radar this draft season, but his age 19 season was pretty special. Breshad Perriman has been a work in progress throughout his UCF career, but with an NFL bloodline and a 6’2 214lb frame, I could see where Perriman would climb up draft boards in the coming months. Oh, and then there’s Vince Mayle from Washington State. Like Goodley, Mayle comes from a system that has turned out some NFL talent (Mike Leach’s air raid), but his track record leaves a lot to be desired. Everyone in this tier completed their college career before Mayle caught his first collegiate pass.
It’s important to remember that this only represents the on-field portion of the equation, with workout numbers and opportunity (draft position) still looming large in deciding future success. That said, I hope this was an interesting exercise for you in understanding this year’s receiver class. I’d be curious to hear which receivers’ plots were most striking to you, so would you please comment with your thoughts?
If you’re interested by this concept of prospect age and want to learn more, shoot me an email at TheCFX@gmail.com. I’m currently researching age-adjusted production for offensive and defensive players with the goal of publishing an ebook around March 15. Shoot me an email and I’ll let you know when it’s ready for your enjoyment.