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A Tale of Two Beasts (Part I – Mark Harrison)
Image via Will Schneekloth Photography

Recently, Frank posted this article about the freakishly athletic rookie TE Chris Gragg. He ranked Gragg’s athleticism – via his Physical Score metric – against the wideouts in the 2013 class to see how he stacks up. Reading that article, what caught my eye (other than Gragg’s gaudy measurables) were the second and third names in the table behind Gragg: Mark Harrison and Marcus Davis.

In a class with other athletically gifted receivers you’ve heard of like Da’Rick Rogers, Justin Hunter, Ryan Swope, and *ahem* Cordarrelle Patterson…Harrison and Davis aren’t getting very much love from the draft analyst community despite being quite significantly ahead of the pack on this metric. See for yourself…

NAME POS HT WT 40 Time VL Physical Score
Chris Gragg TE 75 244 4.5 37.5 4.89
Mark Harrison WR 75 231 4.46 38.5 4.26
Marcus Davis WR 75 233 4.56 39.5 3.77
Cordarrelle Patterson WR 74 216 4.42 37 2.76
Da’Rick Rogers WR 74 217 4.52 39.5 2.57
Ryan Swope WR 72 205 4.34 37 2.44
Chris Harper WR 73 229 4.55 35.5 2.4
Rodney Smith WR 76 225 4.51 34.5 2.12
Josh Boyce WR 71 206 4.38 34 1.35
Justin Hunter WR 76 196 4.44 39.5 1.26
Deandre Hopkins WR 73 214 4.57 36 0.86
Denard Robinson WR 70 199 4.43 36.5 0.85
Aaron Mellette WR 74 217 4.54 33.5 0.78
Tyrone Goard WR 79 205 4.5 36 0.64
Lanear Sampson WR 71 204 4.46 33.5 0.26
Ryan Spadola WR 73 204 4.48 33.5 0.07
Kenny Stills WR 72 194 4.38 33.5 0.03
Corey Fuller WR 74 204 4.43 31.5 0.01

Scores greater than 2 represent above-average athletes and scores north of 4 put a player in some seriously elite company alongside guys named Andre and Julio. Now, we all know athleticism isn’t the only thing that matters for success in the NFL (see Jackson, Chad). But at the same time, you can’t teach fast. On the surface, both Harrison and Davis project as above average NFL physical talents.

To go beyond just the physical, we need to look at what their college playing stats tell us. Adding some form of normalized college production factor alongside the athletic measurement yields a model that does an even better job projecting NFL success. Call it Market Share, Dominator Rating, Productivity Score, etc. What a player did in college – normalized for his team’s abundance or dearth of raw passing offensive production – matters.

For this analysis, I decided to take a bit of an “upside” or “best case scenario” approach to these guys, since they are both categorized as “downfield threats” and it appears in all likelihood that they will both be available later into the NFL draft as well as your rookie drafts. Fliers, if you will. We know their downside is just another über-athlete who never seems to put it together and fails to becomes a NFL (and therefore fantasy) contributor. But if everything breaks right, what could they be?

To do this, I took a Similarity Score approach. Using data from I gathered college player seasons going back to 2000 and calculated their Dominator Rating (DR) and Yards Per Reception (YPR). Again, this is an “upside” analysis so I chose YPR over Yards Per Target. I think of YPT as more of an overall efficiency measure that rewards for catch ratio (assuming players normally catch passes for more than zero yards) as well as what you do after the catch. I like YPR in this case because players who are vertically explosive with their receptions don’t get dinged if they also drop more passes than a possession guy.

Taking both DR and YPR into account, I then compared both players’ final college season to the college seasons of players who went on to record a top 60 fantasy finish (WR5 in a 12 team league) in the NFL. It’s important to note, I took the best fantasy finish for each comparable player in all his seasons in the NFL. So any time Braylon Edwards comes up as a match, he gets credit for his 2007 top 3 finish. This is where I feel I’ve taken a bit of a “best case scenario” approach. For every top 60 WR who shows up as a match for these players, there are another 4 or so players who haven’t ever recorded a top 60 finish, but I ignore them for the purposes of measuring the upside.

Like the Similarity Score App, I take the best 15 matches for each player and then look at the average of their stats. Here’s how some recent NFL draftees with elite physical profiles and high rookie draft selections fared with my model:

Player Year School Rec Yds TD YPR DR NFL Best Rank
Demaryius Thomas 2009 Georgia Tech 46 1154 8 25.1 0.69 5
Thomas Comp Avg 66.1 1236.7 11.9 18.9 0.5 19.5
Dez Bryant 2008 Oklahoma State 87 1480 19 17 0.61 3
Bryant Comp Avg 67.2 1136.3 11.7 16.9 0.48 15.8
Calvin Johnson 2006 Georgia Tech 76 1202 15 15.8 0.55 1
Johnson Comp Avg 71.7 1139.3 10.7 15.9 0.45 20.6
Robert Meachem 2006 Tennessee 71 1298 11 18.3 0.43 22
Meachem Comp Avg 64.4 1123.7 9 17.5 0.42 24.9
Golden Tate 2008 Notre Dame 58 1080 10 18.6 0.37 32
Tate Comp Avg 59.7 1043.2 9.1 17.7 0.37 19.6
Greg Little 2009 North Carolina 62 724 5 11.7 0.34 52
Little Comp Avg 79.7 991.6 9.2 12.5 0.31 29.8
A.J. Green 2010 Georgia 57 848 9 14.9 0.31 4
Green Comp Avg 57.2 858.1 6.1 15.1 0.31 23.9
Jonathan Baldwin 2010 Pittsburgh 53 822 5 15.5 0.31 60
Baldwin Comp Avg 57.3 880.5 6.7 15.4 0.31 16.1
Darrius Heyward-Bey 2008 Maryland 42 609 5 14.5 0.27 28
Heyward-Bey Comp Avg 53.9 806.2 6.7 15 0.27 36.1
Percy Harvin 2008 Florida 40 644 7 16.1 0.21 7
Harvin Comp Avg 44 688.9 5 15.7 0.21 28.2

The table is sorted on DR in descending order. The Avg line below each player is just what the name would imply – the average of the 15 players I found that best match the player. For the NFL Best Rank average, generally anything in the teens and lower is pretty good. Anything over 25 is not a good sign.

It’s a little disconcerting to find Megatron’s average Best Rank lower than Golden Tate’s, despite the ridiculous .55 DR. But if I were controlling for Physical Score here, that would easily give Mega the edge in rankings. It’s worth noting that the DRs of Demaryius, Dez, and Calvin are so off-the-charts good, that the results of a comp analysis don’t actually look all that similar to those players. Further proof that outlier DRs are something to pay attention to.

I don’t love that Meachem is a few spots ahead of A.J. Green, but when it comes down to it, Green just didn’t record dominant stats from a DR perspective. I think my model gets Percy a little “wrong” because his DR was relatively low on the normal receiving metrics, but he also accounted for a good share of Florida’s rushing yards as well. We may have to adjust our normal models for these hybrid-type players like Harvin, Cobb, and now potentially Tavon Austin and *gasp* Cordarrelle Patterson. Lastly, I am encouraged by the fact that it red-flags Greg Little for his low YPR, despite his relatively solid DR, slapping him with almost a 30 for average best finish. It’s certainly not perfect, but what model is?

On to Mark Harrison’s comps. I’ll take a look at Harrison first, since he seems to be the better physical talent. What story do his numbers at Rutgers tell us?

Player Year School Rec Yds TD YPR DR NFL Best Rank
Mark Harrison 2012 Rutgers 44 583 6 13.3 0.24
Harrison Comp Avg 61.7 811.9 7.5 13.3 0.24 35.8
Mark Clayton 2004 Oklahoma 66 876 8 13.3 0.24 28
Brian Hartline 2007 Ohio State 52 694 6 13.3 0.25 35
Jeremy Maclin 2007 Missouri 80 1055 9 13.2 0.25 13
Josh Morgan 2006 Virginia Tech 33 448 4 13.6 0.25 52
Early Doucet 2006 Louisiana State 59 772 8 13.1 0.25 45
Julio Jones 2009 Alabama 43 596 4 13.9 0.23 9
Jacoby Ford 2008 Clemson 55 710 4 12.9 0.25 51
Titus Young 2009 Boise State 79 1041 10 13.2 0.26 46
Denarius Moore 2009 Tennessee 40 540 7 13.5 0.21 33
Davone Bess 2006 Hawaii 96 1220 15 12.7 0.22 35
Josh Morgan 2007 Virginia Tech 46 552 5 12 0.25 52
Reggie Brown 2003 Georgia 49 662 3 13.5 0.2 21
Keary Colbert 2003 Southern California 69 1013 9 14.7 0.25 37
Davone Bess 2007 Hawaii 108 1266 12 11.7 0.23 35
Anthony Gonzalez 2006 Ohio State 51 734 8 14.4 0.26 45

Well, that’s just awful. Worse than all but DHB in the table above. All hope may not lost, however. Perhaps we could attribute Harrison’s bad YPR and DR to poor offensive/quarterback play at Rutgers? When measured against all college seasons from 2000 to 2012 here’s how it ranked:

Rutgers 2012 Value Percentile
Attempts Per Game 30.2 43rd
Yards Per Game 208.5 42nd
Completion % 56.9 46th
Yards Per Attempt 6.9 45th

No luck there. The Rutgers passing offense was only slightly worse than the historical average, and by no means was it historically bad.

From the scouting department, the extolls his measurables and ventures some guesses about why his production may not match up with his potential. Harrison does get some token good praise for being “powerful” and a “Big-play and red-zone threat” here at which does seem to be borne out by his Red Zone TD Rate:


According to “Harrison has shown that he is more than capable of shedding a tackler and taking it the distance.” But even with the praise, you do still get some caution in these reports about his lack of production, especially given his physical attributes.

Even my favorite scouting source, Matt Waldman’s Rookie Scouting Portfolio, rates Harrison higher than you might think, and identifies him in his “underrated” section. Still, the stats paint a pretty bleak picture so it’s hard to endorse Harrison as a great flier pick, especially when you contrast his stats against the guy right next to him on that Physical Score list, Marcus Davis. More on him in Part II…

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