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Brandin Cooks, Sean Mannion, Jay Ajayi, and The Sheraton Hawaii Bowl: “I Spell it with an ‘I’—Bitch!”

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With the NFL regular season winding down and the college football bowl season starting, we at RotoViz are beginning to transition our focus from 2013 to 2014. In particular, we’ll start providing coverage on draft-eligible 2014 prospects, and we’re starting with a series of Bowl Game Previews calling your attention to intriguing players in each contest.

So, without much ado, let’s look at the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl on December 24. (Happy Birthday, sis. [As if you’ll ever read this.])

 

Sheraton Hawaii Bowl

Oregon State (6-6, Pac-12)
My favorite prospect in this game is OSU’s Brandin Cooks (he puts the “I” in “Brandin”), the winner of the 2013 Biletnikoff Award, which goes annually to the nation’s top wide receiver. In so many ways the 20-year-old true junior is (the improved) v.2.0 of Markus Wheaton, his former OSU teammate who was a third-round pick in the 2013 Draft and whose production he replaced this year. According to his NFL draft profile, Wheaton measured in at 5’11” and 189 lbs at the combine and officially had a 40 time of 4.45 seconds. (For his weight, I find Wheaton’s 40 time acceptable, though just barely.) Cooks is 5’10” and 186 lbs (according to his Beavers bio), and his play this season suggests that, like Wheaton, he has the speed and athleticism to play in the NFL at his size.

I liked Wheaton a lot last year (he was one of my top-8 WRs in the 2013 Draft), but I like Cooks even more this year. Why? At a younger age, he’s been more productive than Wheaton was at OSU. Here are the numbers from their two final college seasons (let’s assume that Cooks declares for the 2014 Draft, as he’s widely expected to do):

Player

Year

Rec

Yds

Avg

TD

Class

Age

Markus Wheaton

2011

73

986

13.5

1

JR

20

Markus Wheaton

*2012

91

1244

13.7

11

SR

21

Brandin Cooks

*2012

67

1151

17.2

5

SO

19

Brandin Cooks

2013

120

1670

13.9

15

JR

20

While Wheaton managed only 1 TD and fewer than 1000 yards in his penultimate (2011 Jr) season, Cooks (at a younger age) had 5 TDs and many more receiving yards on fewer receptions in his penultimate (2012 So) season, all while dealing with Wheaton hogging targets as the lead receiver. And in 2013, with Wheaton gone, Cooks as a junior has easily submitted the best season of the pair—more receptions, more yards, more TDs, and a higher receiving average in fewer games played so far.

Here are the market share breakdowns for their two final seasons:

Player

Year

DR Recs

DR Yds

DR TDs

Total DR

Games

Markus Wheaton

2011

0.23

0.29

0.06

0.175

12

Markus Wheaton

*2012

0.29

0.31

0.41

0.36

13

Brandin Cooks

*2012

0.21

0.29

0.19

0.24

13

Brandin Cooks

2013

0.31

0.36

0.41

0.385

12

In their penultimate seasons, Wheaton and Cooks caught a similar percentage of OSU’s receptions, and while they captured a similar share of the team’s yards Cooks handily captured a larger share of the team’s TDs. In their final seasons, they once again caught a similar percentage of the team’s receptions, but this time while they captured a similar share of OSU’s TDs Cooks captured a greater share of the yards. Based on what he’s done in college, Cooks appears to be a better prospect than Wheaton was—and Wheaton was pretty good.

And yet college production is not enough. For Cooks, as a smaller WR, so much will come down to his 40 time. In my WR model, if a guy has good college production and is at least 6’0” and 200 lbs, then I largely don’t care about his 40 time as long as he is drafted no later than the fourth round. But if a guy is smaller than 6’0” and 200 lbs, then I care quite a bit about his 40 time—and given his size Cooks will need to run a sub-4.45 40-yard dash in order for my model to say that I should want to draft him.

If Cook’s relatively slow in the 40, I expect that he’ll be drafted in the third or fourth rounds, and he’ll basically be the Stedman Bailey of the 2014 Draft. (That’s not bad—but it’s not as good as it could be.) If his 40 time is just dreadful, then maybe he’d be something akin to Dexter McCluster or Kendall Wright if he’s lucky. If he runs a good 40, then I think Cook could be drafted as high as the bottom of the first round, although the second round is more likely. In that case, I think his upside could be a less-rushing-oriented Percy Harvin, Randall Cobb, T.Y. Hilton, or what the insane were hoping Ryan Broyles or Titus Young would become (ironic that the Lions drafted both those players). If he misses his upside, he could still turn into a respectable contributor, like Santonio Holmes, Golden Tate, or Andre Roberts. His downside? Have you heard of A.J. Jenkins? God forbid.

I also want to say a quick word about Sean Mannion, the 21-year-old redshirt junior who has been OSU’s starting QB for three years. At 6’5” and 220 lbs (according to his college bio), he has good size, and he’s had a decent (though not great) season—but he doesn’t seem ready for the NFL, and reportedly he’s planning to return to school for his senior year.

Why don’t I think he’s ready for the NFL? Well, for one thing, he’s failed to distinguish himself from his peers. Without giving you any explanatory information whatsoever, I’m simply going to show you a table ordered by the last column on the right (if you want to know what this table means, read the David Carr section of my Las Vegas Bowl Preview):

Year

Player

Z-Score Pct

Z-Score Y/A

Z-Score AY/A

Z-Score TD:INT

Avg Z-Score Pct-AY/A

Avg Z-Score Pct-Y/A-TD:INT

2013

Teddy Bridgewater

1.71

1.77

1.99

2.41

1.85

1.96

2013

Derek Carr

1.69

0.74

1.23

2.3

1.46

1.58

2013

A.J. McCarron

1.24

1.3

1.66

1.47

1.45

1.34

2013

Johnny Manziel

1.51

2.44

1.92

0.04

1.72

1.33

2013

Zach Mettenberger

0.76

2.91

2.31

0.2

1.54

1.29

2013

Blake Bortles

1.33

1.87

1.67

0.4

1.50

1.20

2013

Tajh Boyd

1.24

1.87

1.73

0.45

1.49

1.19

2013

Aaron Murray

0.74

1.5

1.34

0.27

1.04

0.84

2013

Brett Hundley

1.28

0.93

0.83

0.04

1.06

0.75

2013

David Fales

0.62

1.21

1.08

0.09

0.85

0.64

2013

Sean Mannion

0.96

0.36

0.5

0.11

0.73

0.48

For the sake of simplicity, I’ll merely say that it’s not a good thing that the two rightmost numbers in Mannion’s row are the lowest in their columns. If this year he had completed a higher percentage of his passes for more yards and/or more TDs and/or fewer INTS, those numbers wouldn’t be so low. Follow him in 2014 to see if he shows improvement.

Boise State (8-4, MWC)
Have you heard of Boise State’s Jay Ajayi? I hadn’t either until I started researching for this preview—but I’m a smidgen smitten. The 6’0” and 220-lb redshirt sophomore RB probably won’t declare this year, but I really wish he would. First of all, I have a thing for larger and underhyped RBs who have strong college production (sometimes to a fault, sometimes not), and I think that if Ajayi were to enter the NFL as soon as he could he’d have a “good” chance of going under the radar: Good for us, bad for him.

Honestly, when I saw Ajayi’s size and numbers, the first guy who popped into my head was Doug Martin, just because he provides an immediate point of comparison for RB production in Chris Peterson’s offense. Here’s what Ajayi’s done this year compared to what Martin did in 2011 as a 22-year-old redshirt senior of similar size:

Player

Year

Att

RuYds

RuAvg

RuTD

Rec

ReYds

ReAvg

ReTD

Jay Ajayi

2013

226

1328

5.9

17

16

189

11.8

1

Doug Martin

*2011

263

1299

4.9

16

28

255

9.1

2

On the basis of total yards and TDs, they’re really similar—and Ajayi’s actually accumulated his stats on fewer touches while playing with less prolific teammates. And here’s something else to consider:

Player

Year

nQBDR Carries

nQBDR Yds

nQBDR TDs

Tot nQBDR

Games

Jay Ajayi

2013

0.56

0.64

0.74

0.69

12

Doug Martin

*2011

0.63

0.62

0.57

0.595

12

In case you’re wondering, the nQBDR metric is a tool I’ve created that measures the extent to which any non-QB rusher outproduces the other non-QB rushers on his team. For more on nQBDR, here’s my introduction to the metric. A list of my nQBDR-centric posts can be found in the New Mexico Bowl Preview.

Back to Ajayi: On a smaller percentage of BSU’s carries, Ajayi captured a slightly larger share of rushing yards than Martin captured and a much larger share of the team’s rushing TDs. I should say that with larger rushers, a high nQBDR isn’t quite as significant as it is with smaller RBs (a larger RB with a low score could still be good in the NFL, while a small RB with a low score is extremely unlikely to have professional success)—but a high nQBDR is always a good thing, and Ajayi’s score is high enough (given his size) to suggest that he has the potential to be a legitimate workhorse in the NFL. Arian Foster’s highest collegiate nQBDR is 0.61. Ajayi could be a good pro.

In consecutive years, redshirt sophomores such as Lamar Miller and Giovani Bernard have declared for the draft. Why not Ajayi in 2014? He probably doesn’t have Miller’s speed and certainly doesn’t have Gio’s multiple years of strong college production, but neither of those guys has Ajayi’s size. In reality, he could be one of the best large backs of the 2014 Draft.

Without having much of an idea as to how he’ll perform in pre-draft workouts, I think his upside is Doug Martin, Alfred Morris, and other big-bodied productive rushers. Or maybe he’ll just be the next Robert Turbin. That’s not horrible, right? Downside? Didn’t Jonathan Dwyer enter the NFL early???

Also, keep an eye on BSU’s leading WR, Matt Miller. The 6’3” and 222-lb redshirt junior will likely be a 1000-10 receiver after the bowl game (I like those numbers), and he’s got a good dominator rating of 0.37. If you want to think of him as BSU’s new (and slightly larger) Tyler Shoemaker, I won’t stop you. Best-case scenario? A non-racist Riley Cooper. Downside? Tyler Shoemaker’s not in the NFL, know what I mean? Miller’s probably just another version of Austin Pettis. Not that exciting—and he probably won’t declare for the 2014 Draft anyway, so please attempt to hold your non-enthusiasm in abeyance for one more year.

Interested in other Bowl Game Previews? Here are others for your perusal:

As the bowl season progresses, more previews (and other pieces) may be found at my RotoViz Author Page. Want to compare one college WR with another? Check out our College Career Graph WR App. Want to talk about other college prospects? Hit me up on Twitter. And, yes, my name is really Matt Freedman. No, I’m not nine years old.

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