As enthusiasm for the NFL Draft builds, rumors abound of new players who might work themselves into the first round mix. While Devin Smith and Phillip Dorsett are the types of risers who get coaches and GMs fired, one of the new names is pretty interesting.
You were probably surprised and a little skeptical when you heard talk this week about Breshad Perriman going as early as No. 15 to the 49ers. I originally had Perriman going at 3.03 in my recent dynasty rookie mock based on good size and a strong comp list from the Box Score Scout, but that was before I realized Breshad is the son of Brett. Perhaps my all-time favorite NFL team growing up was the 1995 Detroit Lions squad that started 3-6 before rattling off seven straight and making the playoffs behind Scott Mitchell, Barry Sanders, Herman Moore, Brett Perriman, and Johnnie Morton. If we could only bring back Wayne Fontes and deploy a little run-n-shoot with these current Lions, maybe Calvin Johnson would get at least one playoff victory before he retired.
Now with a strong emotional connection established, I went in search of evidence to support my preferred viewpoint. Because that’s how you’re supposed to do it, right?
Breshad Perriman vs Kevin White vs Jaelen Strong
If Perriman ends up in the first round, he’ll be competing with Jaelen Strong and perhaps Kevin White. All three receivers are roughly similar in size, although Perriman and Strong are expected to have a slight edge in height. Perriman is a few months older than Strong and a little more than a year younger than White. How do the three measure up in terms of production?
As you can see, the final year production numbers for the three prospects are almost identical. Most reports suggest Perriman will run extremely well at the Combine, in which case his Freak Score plus production profile will be in the same range as the other two top prospects.
But even before we get the Combine results, we can take a quick peek at Perriman’s production-based comps and see who might be in play.
When Odell Beckham is the first name to pop up, it’s kind of difficult to keep expectations in check and calmly peruse the rest of the list. The second name on the list belongs to Michael Clayton, a receiver with a strange track record. Before falling off a cliff, Clayton posted one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history. It’s hard not to get excited about Torrey Smith as well.
What about his full age-adjusted career path?
While Jon Moore’s visualization of 2015 WR Prospects showed Kevin White below the trend line for a future WR1, the same was not true of Perriman.
Ideally, you would want a first round pick to have multiple seasons at or above the line, but it’s encouraging that Perriman reaches it for his final season. There’s no reason to be especially skeptical of a size/speed specimen who meets this criterion for the season most predictive of NFL success. (I strongly recommend checking out Jon’s full article.)
What about drops?
One of the criticisms leveled at Perriman is a high drop rate. At this time of the year, we read a lot about charting projects where drops have been counted as though this offers us a clue as to a receiver’s NFL future. There are a lot of problems with this. First, the entire discussion is un-calibrated. Second, it relies on tiny sample sizes. And third, drops are already factored in.
Let me give a couple of examples. Just taking a quick jog through the PFF database, we see that in 2012 Vincent Jackson dropped 6.5 percent of his catchable passes. In 2013, he dropped 13 percent. In 2013, Torrey Smith dropped 7 percent of his catchable balls. In 2014, he dropped 18 percent.1 Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant dropped 10 percent in back-to-back seasons (2012 and 2013) but are considered to be two of the best receivers in the league at making contested catches. Marques Colston dropped 4 percent in 2013 (an elite number) and 12 percent in 2014 (a very poor number). Randall Cobb dropped 12 percent of his catchable passes in 2012 and 8 percent in 2014, neither number particularly good for a supposedly elite receiver being targeted on mostly shorter passes.
Much like the idea of a receiver making “contested catches,” receiver drops tend to be already counted in an evidence-based evaluation. Is it a problem that Sammie Coates supposedly has stone hands? Probably. But that point is encompassed in the fact that his Dominator Rating fell from 0.39 in 2013 to 0.23 in 2014. His inability to catch the ball led directly to decreased production because those catches would have boosted his yardage totals, and they probably also led to decreased production because the quarterback was incentivized to throw to other receivers.
In general, when discussing drops, we’re looking at a small sample stat that has very low predictive value for future drops, and we’re looking at a stat that shouldn’t be double counted in terms of production. (Just as another anecdotal example, there was a lot of talk about Cody Latimer’s low drop rate leading up to the 2014 Draft. But was that a good sign? Because his production was a little weak, and if he’s not even dropping any passes, then he must really not be getting open or running his routes correctly or something. You know who struggled badly with drops last year? Kelvin Benjamin and Martavis Bryant, both at 13 percent. You know who put up a lot of fantasy points . . .)
Does Breshad Perriman make highlight catches?
If Kevin White has moved ahead of Amari Cooper on many boards due to his highlight catches, we probably need to know if Perriman can make those kinds of plays.
Hail Mary for the win.
- This is an atrocious number, but it’s also unsustainable and perhaps even a positive sign for 2015. (back)