I was just browsing some numbers this afternoon when I saw something that I thought was funny, so I had to post it. The graph below is a heatmap from the College Career Graphs app. It shows the college production measures that we track like Market Share of Yards, Market Share of Touchdowns, Yards per Target, etc. When I pulled up the three receivers that will likely be at the top of the Steelers depth chart I was pretty shocked at how similar they were in college. Check out the heatmap and then I’ll have some comments below it.
The whole graph is mostly the same color of blue. This really doesn’t happen very often unless you’re trying to find receivers that are really similar to each other. I wasn’t doing that, I was just looking at the Steelers receivers. They all averaged good, not great, percentages of their college team’s production, good but not great yards per target, and they were all targeted 141 (or 142) times in the year before they left for the NFL. They were also remarkably mediocre in the red zone. A good red zone TD rate for a college player is up in the 40% or more range. It’s also crazy that all of these receivers are under 190 pounds and run a 40 in the 4.4s!
The funny thing is that the Steelers are drafting guys that are probably a little undervalued relative to their ability to produce yards, but then the Steelers just keep taking that guy over and over again. The receivers they take are probably also a little overrated (a little, not a lot) given that they don’t produce touchdowns like they produce yards. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders haven’t been awful in the red zone like Mike Wallace was, but they also don’t produce WR1-type red zone efficiency either. I think it’s semi-hilarious that the Steelers took Marcus Wheaton in the 2013 draft and penciled themselves in for likely more of the same.
It’s a head scratching approach to roster-building because even if you believed that you had ability to pick out a certain kind of undervalued receiver, wouldn’t you still want to mix things up a little and take shots at trying to find a real #1 WR? Football games are not won or lost depending on whether you have a receiver that can roll up yards. They’re won and lost based on whether you get into the end zone. Despite the general perception that the Steelers are good at picking wide receivers, they haven’t had a top 10 offense in points since 2007.