Football

The 2017 RotoViz Writing Contest

It’s that time of year again. We’re back with the 2017 version of the RotoViz writing contest. This is now year three of the contest, and in each of 2015 and 2016, we’ve had some great submissions that led to further writing opportunites here at the ‘Viz, with those writers still writing for us today. If you are this year’s winner, you’ll get a lifetime RotoViz pass, and possibly even the chance to write some more.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You must use the Box Score Scout App.
  2. 800 word maximum.
  3. Make the case for a current year NFL draft prospect that you think will be overlooked during draft season.
  4. Your submission should be written “RotoViz style.” In addition to good grammar and punctuation, being clear and succinct also counts. Your article should be actionable, logical, and evidence-based. If you make an assertion, back it up with evidence. The evidence can come from any of our apps, or another source, but some of the evidence must come from the Box Score Scout App.
  5. Post your entry as a reply to this article, by clicking Add Comment at the bottom of this article (or by clicking this link). You should be able to paste in images and tables, but let us know if you have trouble with that.
  6. Deadline: April 24, 2017.
  7. We’ll review the submissions and announce a winner sometime during the week of May 1, 2017. We’ll run the article on the site, and the winner gets a lifetime subscription to RotoViz’s football content.
  8. Note that even without winning, we’ve found multiple regular contributors to RotoViz through this contest.

Good luck!

By RotoDoc | @RotoDoc | Archive

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  1. Little Big Man – Louisiana Tech’s WR Trent Taylor

    Weighing in at 181 pounds and standing four inches short of six feet tall, Louisiana Tech’s Trent Taylor does not have the typical look of a top NFL WR prospect. He ran the seventh slowest 40 time for his position at the combine, clocking in with a 4.63. According to NFLdraftscout.com, Taylor ranks as the #41 WR in this years draft class, a projected 7th round pick. At first glance, there is nothing special about Trent Taylor.

    If we look a little deeper, however, Taylor merits a much longer look. Perhaps the most detrimental to his case is his size. When we look closer, however, we can find several similar sized players who have found success. According to Box Score Scout, Taylor compares very similarly to Willie Snead – both in size and 40 time. Snead ran a 4.62 and weighs in at 195. He is a little taller, but is within 3.5 inches of Taylors height. Snead has found success in the NFL with his hard-nosed play and solid hands. Another notable little big man is TY Hilton, who has also found great success in the NFL.

    Once you get past his size and start to look at what he did in college, we can strengthen our case for Trent Taylor. In his senior year, he led the NCAA in receiving yards with 1803. He had 136 receptions and a dozen touchdowns. Over his NCAA career, he posted 327 receptions for 4,179 yards. He started as a true freshman, and displayed excellent hands with a very low drop rate.

    Digging more deeply, we can also spot a trend that compares favorably to another WR of similar size and speed. Taylor had 28 catches as a freshman, 64 as a sophomore, 99 as a junior and 136 as a senior. His yardage totals also improved each year. In the early 1980’s, another WR came out of a small college with very similar production. 30 receptions as a freshman, 66 as a sophomore, 102 as a junior, 103 as a senior. He was a few inches taller than Taylor and about 15 pounds heavier. He also ran a very pedestrian 40 time, reportedly clocking in at about 4.60. This comparable WR went on to become arguably the best of all time. We all know him as Jerry Rice.

    While a comparison to Jerry Rice may not be realistic, the numbers indicate that Trent Taylor deserves more merit than he is receiving on draft boards.

    Kevin Cole wrote an article on Rotoworld.com looking at the variables that predict early NFL success. The three variables he used were draft position, career market share of receiving yards and final year market share of receiving yards. The top score from this model for the 2000-2013 data set was Calvin Johnson. His two market share numbers were 42% career and 51% final year. Other notable names on the list include Larry Fitzgerald (41% and 45%), A.J. Green (34% and 39%) and Dez Bryant (35% and 60%).

    More recently, in the 2014-2015 data set, we find Amari Cooper (36% and 44%), Sammy Watkins (30% and 34%), Mike Evans (29% and 30%), Odell Beckham Jr (29% and 35%) and Brandin Cooks (27% and 36%).

    While draft position is figured into the final rankings, we are only looking at the market share numbers for the purposes of our comparison. Comparing the market share numbers, Trent Taylor comes in at 27% career and 35% final year. That compares very similarly to Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr, Brandin Cooks and Sammy Watkins – all top tier WR’s. Additionally, it shows a growth in market share, something we like to see in prospects.

    Trent Taylor is not the guy with the measurable numbers. He is the guy who goes out and gets it done when it’s game time. Coming out of high school he was a star, but due to his size he was overlooked. He put his head down, worked hard and led his team in receiving yards every year except his freshman season. Now he is being overlooked again in the NFL draft. He will be a bargain for whatever team picks him up, and he’s my selection for the most overlooked player in the NFL draft this season.

  2. A Year Late: The Jehu Chesson Story

    Jehu Chesson may have left Michigan for the NFL after his junior year if he hadn’t torn his PCL during the Citrus Bowl that season. Chesson was in the process of shredding Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves, who would later be the #11 pick in that draft, for 5 catches, 118 yards, and a TD. His quarterback, Jake Rudock, was graduating and there was uncertainty on who would be throwing Chesson the ball the following season. He had been named first-team All-Big Ten and team MVP, and seemed ready to cash out on his breakout season.

    As unfortunate as the knee injury was to his draft prospects, Chesson still had one great season on tape and hoped to add another one to polish his résumé. The opposite happened.

    With new quarterback Wilson Speight, Jim Harbaugh elected to become run-heavy. Michigan passed the ball on only 40.58% of plays, good for 104th in the nation. Chesson personally struggled to get going early in the year due to not being cleared to return until the end of July. He had little time to develop chemistry with Speight in the offseason. And while Speight’s 38.9 expected points added- passing was about average, it was a healthy fall from Rudock’s 51.5 the year before.

    The Numbers

    So what are we to believe? Was Chesson a flash in the pan college player, or could he have some staying power as a contributing NFL receiver? Physically, he seems like he should be able to hold his own. At 6’3”, he probably could use a little bit more muscle to his lean frame. But he has measurables that match up favorably with other recent big-body receivers taken high in the draft.

    The most important comparison in the above Box Score heatmap is the one to Mike Williams, Chesson's fellow WR in this season’s draft. Williams is taller and heavier, but lacks some of the raw athleticism demonstrated by Chesson. That includes the 40 yard dash, where Williams recently ran a 4.49 at Clemson’s Pro Day. Mike Williams is a tremendous catcher of the football, but it is not like Chesson has stone hands. CBS Sports reported Chesson as having reliable hands and he looked naturally smooth in the NFL's gauntlet drill.

    The Production Questions

    Of course, the difference between Jehu Chesson and Mike Williams was the amount of on-field production in their final season. Williams exploded to a national title, while Chesson was a secondary character in Michigan's offense.

    That doesn’t mean that Chesson should be regarded as only a late-round flyer. Chesson showed that he was able to produce when given opportunity in a functioning passing offense with a competent quarterback. He probably would struggle as a number one option at the NFL level, but he could be a vital second or third wideout, particularly in the redzone. In his breakout season, Chesson had 9 receiving touchdowns. Julio Jones had a collegiate best season of 7, Odell Beckham went for 8, and AJ Green matched him with 9.

    Jehu also maintained a team first attitude and work ethic that will endear him to his NFL teammates and coaches immediately. He was described as an aggressive run blocker and competes to the whistle, qualities that his position coaches will love in their wide receivers. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him play some special teams in order to earn more playing time, a great way to get in the game as a rookie.

    The Verdict

    While it seems unlikely that he will be able to ascend into the echelon of receiver superstardom, it also seems impossible to write off his fantastic 2015-16 season. Given a lot of natural athletic ability, a full year’s recovery from a knee injury that slowed his senior season, and the possibility of teaming up with a superstar quarterback, it feels as though Jehu Chesson’s arrow may be pointing up. If he is drafted into the right situation, he could explode on to the scene once again.

  3. A ZJ You Can Afford - ECU's Zay Jones

    Zay Jones was overlooked by every major D1 school in his home state of Texas as a 2 star high school WR. You know who else was an overlooked prospect from a desert with 2 stars and a talented pedigree? Luke Skywalker. When East Carolina offered Zay a scholarship, they assured this Jedi Knight was indeed an R2-'D1' caliber player. The force is strong with this one. Ok, it's time for the references to end (s/o Last Jedi trailer). However; the overlooked aspect continued throughout his record shattering collegiate career.

    During his senior campaign, Jones solidified himself as a PPR legend amongst the amateur ranks, hauling in an NCAA record 158 catches. Fluky year? Nah. Zay also shattered the NCAA career receptions record, which happened to be held by former ECU teammate Justin Hardy (Atlanta Falcons), with 399 career grabs. The fact that he was 1 catch shy of 400 is both infuriating and astounding. The numbers were tremendous enough for Jones to be a finalist for the Belitnikoff Award, given to the the NCAA's top receiver. He didn't win the award, go ahead and add that to the 'overlooked, sleeping on him only motivates him' mantra that drives Zay. Don't believe me? Just ask him, or his 3-time Super Bowl Champion father, Robert Jones. Just as impressive as these preposterous reception numbers, was his drop rate - a mere 2.7%. Saying Zay Jones has the best hands in the draft is not really hyperbole, quantitatively speaking.

    While his stats are unmatched at the collegiate level, physical abilities need to be addressed and compared to get a broader scope of the athlete we're dealing with here. Jones stands 6'2" with a 201 lb frame with room for the 22 year old to strengthen as he develops. A 4.45 40 time groups Zay with current NFL Wide Receivers Amari Cooper (4.42), Stefon Diggs (4.46), and DeVante Parker (4.45). Also worth noting, Jones ranked top-5 among all WR's in the broad jump and both shuttle drills at the NFL combine. I was not able to find Zay in the Box Score Scout App - although there is massive data at the aforementioned 'overlooked, sleeping on him only motivates him' proverbial database. (Please help me if I am using the app wrong and missed him!)

    The skepticism, if any, surrounding Jones would be the level of competition he faced in college - not having come from a Power 5 conference. He did have 3 games vs. Power 5 schools during his senior campaign. And as expected, they shut him down: Jones averaged 13 catches for 126 yards in those games. Wait...are those numbers good? One of those games, at SEC opponent South Carolina, Zay collected a school record 22 receptions, but could not break the NCAA record of 23. Sad!

    The elephant in the room when examining Zay's stats, are his touchdowns - or lack there of. 8 TD's is but a tiny slice of the 158 catch Papa Jones pie. It is worth noting that he did reach paydirt 7 times in his final 8 games. With Zay being a possession receiver, the ability to score a lot of TD's is synonymous with Red Zone opportunities. ECU, while offensively putrid outside of ZJ, was surprisingly efficient when actually entering the Red Zone. ECU ranked 23rd nationally in RZ Offense, with 39 scores in 44 opportunities. Only 2 teams ranking in the top 25 had fewer chances. Simply put, Zay catches the ball when thrown his way; and when given the opportunity inside the Red Zone, he adds value to the overall efficiency of an offense. Zay has the potential DFS trajectory to exceed salary based expectations more weeks than not, especially in PPR formats - he'll have a modest floor, and given the right offense, TD equity. (Picture a younger, taller, faster, 2016 Cole Beasley)

    Zay had one last impression to make on NFL scouts during the Senior Bowl, and he left a lasting one. Catch. After. Catch. NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah and Mike Moyock described his performance:

    "You talk to the (Senior Bowl) coaches that have been around him this week, they say it's like dealing with a 10-year professional," said NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah during the broadcast of the game. "When your dad is Robert Jones, who played in the NFL for a long time, it's the family business."
    NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock said Jones was the MVP of the first half.
    "(Jones) had an unbelievable half. All he did was confirm what he did all week long," Mayock said. "He's a top-100 pick in this draft."

    Well said, Mike. Whichever team ends up with this WR with a chip on his shoulder the size of Texas will be getting an absolute steal of a pick. Zay has the criteria in him to be a long-term player in the league. If they don't know who ZJ is by this point, they can't afford it.

  4. James Conner – Potential Workhorse Hiding In Plain Sight

    James Conner has become one of the best stories in college football in recent memory. He ended the 2014 season as the leading rusher in the ACC and entered 2015 as a Heisman candidate. Unfortunately, he tore his MCL in Pittsburgh’s season opener and was later diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Conner managed to successfully rehab his knee while undergoing chemotherapy and continued to practice with the team, a testament to his work ethic and his commitment to the game.

    Unfortunately, Conner’s incredible comeback story has been a double-edged sword, as he recently penned an open letter to NFL GM’s asking them to evaluate him as “more than the guy who beat cancer.” It appears James Conner is undervalued by the larger football community and Rotoviz as well because the Box Score Scout app indicates that Conner has the potential to be a three-down workhorse in the NFL.

    Several of Conner’s best comps were drafted in the second round, so his current 5th round grade is a headscratcher. Conner’s NFL Combine numbers are in line with several other large running backs, most notably Jeremy Hill and Carlos Hyde. Additionally, Conner appears to have Le'Veon Bell upside. Lost in the narrative shuffle, his history as a prolific producer for Pitt seems to have fallen by the wayside.

    Production

    As a 19-year old sophomore in 2014, James Conner finished the season as one of the top running backs in college football. He ended as number 3 in the country in rushing touchdowns, number 7 in rushing yards, and number 11 in total yards from scrimmage. His time as Pitt’s bell-cow back netted him the 2014 ACC Offensive Player and ACC Player of the year awards, beating out Duke Johnson, Jamison Crowder, and Jameis Winston.

    James Conner returned to action less than a year after his cancer diagnosis and ended the season with 20 touchdowns from scrimmage. Although he saw a reduction in rushing production, Conner flashed improved receiving ability. He caught 21 passes for 302 yards and four touchdowns, and among running backs who caught 15 or more passes Conner’s 14.5 yards per reception was good for 5th best in the nation.

    Changes in Market Share

    As shown above, his Non-QB Dominator Rating (nQBDR) declined from 2014 to 2016. This change can be partially explained by the departure of offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph. Joe Rudolph appeared to favor an approach with a work-horse RB, whereas Matt Canada’s scheme used a variety of formations/personnel packages to keep the defense off balance. The change in offensive personnel led to James Conner losing his bell-cow responsibilities (20+ rush attempts per game).

    Year Bell-cow Games RuAtt RuYds RuTDs
    2014	   8         231  1,294  14    
    2016	   4         86    450    5

    Bear in mind that a low nQBDR negatively correlates with size and should not adversely impact Conner's NFL prospects. At 6 foot 1, 233 pounds, Conner is among the larger running backs available this draft class. His stature and physique indicate that he’s able to take the punishment required from a 3-down workhorse in today’s NFL.

    Draft This Man

    Given his prolific rushing output at Pitt and showcasing an improved receiving game, James Conner appears to be severely undervalued compared to his apparent upside. As shown above, the Box Score Scout app indicated that Conner’s career numbers are in line with Wayne Gallman’s. Gallman has the highest Workhorse Score in the 2017 draft class, which underscores Conner’s hidden workhorse potential.

    Given Conner’s larger frame, he projects as a power back at the NFL level, in a similar vein to Jeremy Hill. Since entering the NFL in 2014, Hill has finished as a top 24 PPR RB every season. Conner’s potential as an NFL star makes him an absolute steal given his current dynasty ADP and puts him in play as a potential 2017 Zero RB target.

  5. JLaps says:

    Taking a look under the Hood

    Rotoviz. A site where a secret cabal of fantasy gurus feed freshly harvested data into arcane algorithms to summon forth previously-unheard-of prospects from the darkest reaches of the football realm.  At least that’s how I presume it works behind the curtain.  Every week or so a new, indecipherable acronym shows up and suddenly I find myself getting hyped for a prospect whom I had previously never heard of. And yet somehow, a player who as a 19-year old sophomore was top-3 in the ACC in every rushing category, only behind some guy named Dalvin Cook, doesn’t have even so much as a blurb anywhere on the site, much less a full article. That player is Elijah Hood.

    Background

    Hood, a 4-star recruit coming out of high school, originally committed to Notre Dame before opting to stay close to home with North Carolina.  As a true freshman he was used sparingly as he slotted in behind sophomore T.J. Logan, but then exploded onto the scene as a sophomore, posting over 1,500 yards from scrimmage and 17 TDs.  Had Hood’s final season numbers even just maintained that level of production then he’d certainly be much higher up rookie draft boards, however injuries derailed his junior campaign, forcing him to miss two games, leave another early, and play at less than full speed in several others.

    UNC head coach Larry Fedora doesn’t discuss injuries.  Larry Fedora doesn’t let his players discuss injuries.  We do know from Hood himself, as well as from the UNC coaches that Hood was banged up for all of 2016 with various ailments, but there’s no way to quantify how it affected his play.  We don’t know how the changes to the offense in 2016 with Mitch Trubisky’s emergence as a true pocket-passer may have affected his role.

    Production

    What we do know is that in his healthy sophomore season he completely took over as the team’s workhorse RB to the tune of a 0.74 Workhorse Score.  This compares favorably to the final season WS for many of the other backs in the 2017 class, slotting in 9th right between Joe Williams and Christian McCaffrey.  It’s a production profile that certainly has a chance to translate to the NFL:

    What might make this even more impressive is that the only RB he really ceded any production to (T.J. Logan, who probably also deserves a closer look as a profile 3 back) was older and is also considered a draftable player in the 2017 class, checking in as the 18th RB in the RSI.  Jon Moore’s research shows that perhaps we should view a lead back’s production even more favorably if there was another talented back on the roster.

    And despite Hood’s dropoff in play in 2016, there were still some bright spots to his game.  His YPC stayed at a respectable 5.9, and he did something that every owner in a PPR league loves to see: add receptions.  His 2.3 RECPG, taken in the context of a big workhorse back, are enough to make him intriguing as a big back who can still catch passes at the next level.  In fact, despite his injuries in 2016 Hood still posts a solid score in the RB Prospect Lab:

    Which would tie him for 9th in this year’s fairly deep class and as 7th in last year’s class, right above some guy named Jordan Howard.

    The next Jordan Howard?

    In fact, Jordan Howard is eerily similar to the sophomore version of Hood:

    And while neither back has athletic metrics in the box score scout, their Pro Day numbers are pretty
    much dead-on:

    Though Howard did show more explosion in the jumping drills, Hood compares well in every other category.

    Hood certainly has a lot more question marks than Howard entering the NFL.  Howard ended his career on a high note while Hood mysteriously fizzled out.  Howard was drafted into a nearly ideal situation, a Bear’s team with no real talent at RB, while Hood’s eventual destination won’t be known until the draft. It’s important to remember that one good comp alone is no guarantee of success, however it does show that a player with Hood’s profile and early production similar to Howard’s can find success in today’s NFL.

    Draft Capital

    Hood’s landing spot in the NFL draft will heavily influence where he ends up going in rookie drafts. Hood checks in as the 20th RB in the latest RSI and thus profiles to be a late-round pick or possibly even an UDFA (which isn’t a deal-breaker for a back like Hood as Jon Moore discusses here and here), so he’ll likely need a good landing spot to see opportunity in year one. Hood may be available in the mid to late 3rd round, but pay attention to how his ADP changes after the draft and adjust accordingly.

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