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Marqise Lee, Davante Adams, Derek Carr, and the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: “What Happens in Las Vegas Stays in the First Round”
Image via Neon Tommy/Flickr
Image via Neon Tommy/Flickr

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 start looking at some of the Bowl Games to be played on Saturday, December 21st.

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl

University of Southern California (9-4, USC)
Is Marqise Lee the next Robert Woods, or is maintaining statistical studness for three consecutive college seasons almost impossible to do for anybody? Near the end of Lee’s 2012 true sophomore season, Jon Moore thought that Lee compared in his “draftability” to Dez Bryant and Julio Jones, and in his 2013 preseason piece on college WRs Moore said that Lee was his top receiver, “appearing in a cluster of players that includes Randy Moss, Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, and Dez Bryant.” With two straight 1000-10 seasons, Lee (like his USC teammate Woods the year before) looked like a lock for a first-round-caliber junior season before declaring early for the draft, but his 2013 season hasn’t gone according to plan. Here are his collegiate receiving stats:

Year

Rec

Yds

Avg

TD

DR Rec

DR Yds

DR TDs

Total DR

Games

2011

73

1143

15.7

11

0.24

0.32

0.28

0.3

12

*2012

118

1721

14.6

14

0.42

0.47

0.36

0.415

13

2013

50

673

13.5

2

0.29

0.32

0.18

0.25

10

What happened in 2013? Well, he missed three games due to a knee injury and played through his injury in several other games. So, if he declares for the 2013 Draft, should we discount his junior year altogether and assume that, like Alshon Jeffery, he had extenuating circumstances that excuse his performance? Or is Alshon merely an exception to the philosophical rule that collegiate WRs who finish strong make for the best professional WRs?

Or should we think of Lee as the 2013 Keenan Allen, who also missed three games his junior year due to injury? A comparison with Allen may prove instructive. First of all, Lee (according to his USC profile) is 6’0” and 195 lbs; Allen (according to his NFL draft profile) was 6’2” and 206 lbs at the 2013 Combine. Personally, I like larger prospects, and as long as a WR is at least 6’0” and 200 lbs I don’t care about his 40 time (as long as he’s at least a fourth-round pick). If, however, a guy is under 6’0” and 200 lbs then I’m very picky about his 40 time—which means that, if Lee’s listed size is accurate, in order to be a draft target in my WR model he’ll need to fulfill a speed criterion that didn’t apply to Allen. Additionally, as crazy as this sounds, Allen is younger than Lee. In 2014, Allen will be 22; Lee, 23.

Finally, when Allen did play his junior year, he did better than Lee statistically. Much better:

Year

Rec

Yds

Avg

TD

DR Rec

DR Yds

DR TDs

Total DR

Games

2012

61

737

12.1

6

0.37

0.36

0.5

0.43

9

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere (here and here, for example), I really like WRs who record 1000-10 seasons in their final college seasons. Of course, I should mention a few things: 1) if a WR misses only a few games then I prorate his totals to a 12-game season; 2) I look at scrimmage yards, not just receiving yards; and 3) I look at total (non-passing TDs), not just receiving TDs. Thus, when Allen’s 39 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD, and 1 punt return TD are added to his receiving numbers, and then when those totals are prorated—yeah, Allen’s 2012 was a 1034.5-10.7 season. That’s better than Lee’s 2013. And Allen’s 0.43 DR? Better than any DR Lee’s ever produced.

In my WR model, I’m not as fastidious about the statistics for a first-round draft pick—but I think the question now exists as to whether that’s what Lee will be. For me, so much will depend statistically on his bowl game performance. How substantially will he improve his numbers? For others, much may depend psychically on his bowl game. How substantially will he show that he’s recovered from his knee injury? Will he be able to leave scouts with a good final taste in their mouths? To Jon Moore in August, Lee was “The Undisputed #1.” Four months later, in my mind he’s “The Unknown #1.” I’m not sure if one bowl game should mean all that much to a potential stud’s professional prospects—but perhaps no game this bowl season means more to any player than the Las Vegas Bowl means to Marqise Lee. It could make or break his first-round status. It could even determine whether he returns to USC for his senior year. What do you think?—will Lee fall out of the first round?—is he the next Robert Woods? (Subliminal message: I’m afraid so.)

Fresno State (11-1, MWC)
I like Sammy Watkins. I love Mike Evans. I frakking lurve Fresno State’s redshirt sophomore Davante Adams. (And, yes, I just merged Battlestar Gallactica and Annie Hall. I’m told that the nerdy Jew thing is so hot right now.) Turning 21 on Christmas Eve and blessed with good size (6’2” and 216 lbs, according to his Bulldogs profile), Adams right now is the player I most want in 2014 rookie drafts. I’m not saying that he should be the #1 pick—but I want him more than I want anybody else. I’ll be thrilled if I can get him with a low first-round pick. He feels like Justin Blackmon (at his pro day weight) or young/good Hakeem Hicks. Maybe a slightly larger Michael Crabtree or slightly smaller Dez Bryant or Larry Fitzgerald. He is the high-round and younger Marvin McNutt—which might be the best compliment I feel I could give to a WR, considering how much I lurve McNutt. (I know I’m crazy.) Understand me—I’m forcing myself not to say that, depending on his 40 time, Adams is the next Josh Gordon. I know I can’t actually be objective about this guy, but I’m trying.

With Derek Carr set to leave Fresno State, Adams very well could pull a Crabtree and enter the draft after only 2 years of college action, deciding to forgo the possible complication of a QB change—and such a move seems wise to me. I really hope he declares, because (as evidenced by Lee’s 2013 season) submitting three straight seasons of studliness is no easy feat. Adams right now is like Katniss Everdeen—he’s the Dude on Fire. Better to leave after 2013 than risk becoming the 2014 college season’s Marqise Lee.

Here are his 2012 and 2013 stats, for your admiration and viewing pleasure:

Year

Rec

Yds

Avg

TD

Games

*2012

102

1312

12.9

14

13

2013

122

1645

13.5

23

12

As good as his 2012 was, his 2013 has been even better. He’s currently #1 in the nation in receptions and receiving TDs and #2 in receiving yards. I look at this guy and think, “Why would anyone care about Marqise Lee?”

I grant that he plays in an offense that may inflate his stats. Here’s what I have to say about that: 1) Maybe an NFL team with a statistically-inflated (read: awesome) offense will see what he’s done in a prolific collegiate system and draft him because he seems like a good fit; and 2) his improvement in Dominator Rating from 2012 to 2013 suggests that his stats aren’t that inflated.

Year

DR Recs

DR Yds

DR TDs

Total DR

Games

*2012

0.29

0.31

0.37

0.34

13

2013

0.28

0.34

0.48

0.41

12

On a similar percentage of his team’s receptions, Adams has improved his market share of both receiving yards and TDs. Without being a comparative reception hog, Adams is catching about a third of his team’s passing yards and almost half of Carr’s TD passes—and Carr’s thrown a lot of those.

I don’t care what his 40 time is—if he declares, Adams should be selected in the first two rounds of the 2014 Draft. With his production, I can’t imagine Adams being anything less than a fourth-round pick (think of him as a larger Stedman Bailey—his draft floor is high), and that draft status combined with his size renders (to me) his 40 time largely irrelevant. If he’s slow, his upside is Anquan Boldin—and (I guess) his downside could be Mohamed Sanu, Dwayne Jarrett, or Maurice Stovall. If he has decent speed, his upside is Roddy White, Jordy Nelson, or Justin Blackmon (reason dictates that I be conservative), and his downside could be Charles Rogers. If he’s fast in the 40, his upside is . . . I won’t bring myself to say Calvin Johnson or Josh Gordon, so I’ll just say Julio Jones; if fast, his downside could be Robert Meachem, Mike Sims-Walker, or Laurent Robinson. I pray to God he somehow doesn’t turn into Marko Mitchell.

Of course, the guying throwing to Adams is redshirt senior Derek Carr, and I should say something about him. I’ve been working for a while on a projection model for QBs entering the NFL, and although I’m still working on it I think I’ve reached a point where I can give share some useful information. First of all, I’m more interested in efficiency metrics (completion percentage, yards/attempt, adjusted yards/attempt, TD:INT ratio, etc.) than I am in raw totals. Secondly, I think that a standardized means of comparison is necessary, because a 60% completion percentage in 2013 doesn’t mean what it meant in 1988. As a result, I’m creating metrics whereby I first compare any given QB prospect to his contemporaneous peers and then calculate Z-Scores in order to compare that prospect with other QBs not immediately in his temporal peer group. So I guess what I’m saying is that Carr’s stats, while awesome, need more context.

Here are his senior-year stats:

Year

Cmp

Att

Pct

Yds

Y/A

AY/A

TD

Int

2013

424

605

70.1

4871

8.1

9.1

48

7

These numbers are great. He’s #1 in the country in completions, passing yards, and TDs. Those stats, combined with his solid size (6’3” and 218 lbs, according to his Bulldogs bio), make the 22-year-old QB a solid bet to be drafted in the first three rounds—and lots of people expect that he’ll be one of the first QBs off the board. But there are some who think he’s not a first-round talent because of his lower level of competition and non-pro offense. So how does Carr compare to the QBs in his year and those of the previous three drafts?

In general, I think the 2014 Draft (regarding QBs) will look a lot like a mixture of the 2011-13 Drafts. As many as 6 QBs could go in the first 40 picks (as happened in 2011), and the talent level is somewhere between that of the 2012 and 2013 classes. I don’t think anyone in this class is on the level of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, or Russell Wilson (Teddy Bridgewater may be the closest), but I also think that collectively this group is better than that consisting of Geno Smith, E.J. Manuel, and Mike Glennon. Here are some Z-Scores with information to follow:

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

Using a three-year average of all the college passers in SR/CFB’s database from 2011 to 2013, I 1) calculated the standard deviation for completion percentage, Y/A, AY/A, and TD:INT ratio, 2) calculated the Z-Scores for these metrics, and then 3) I selectively averaged some of these Z-Scores into 2 separate Composite Z-Scores. It sounds complicated, but it’s not. A “Z-Score Pct” of 1.69 for Derek Carr means that his 2013 completion percentage is 1.69 standard deviations better than the 2011-13 three-year average. Get it?

According to the first averaged Z-Score (which uses Pct and AY/A), Carr follows Bridgewater and Manziel in a very tight tier of QBs featuring Mettenberger, Bortles, Boyd, and McCarron. By this averaged Z-Score, very little distinguishes Carr from a handful of the other QBs likely to enter the 2014 Draft. If, however, one looks at the second averaged Z-Score (which factors the TD:INT ratio out of the AY/A and instead uses Pct, Y/A, and TD:INT ratio), then Carr distinguishes himself from this second tier of QBs and occupies a place of his own behind Bridgewater.

As a point of reference, here’s a table with the 7 first QBs selected in the 2011-13 Drafts, organized by the second averaged Z-Score:

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

2011

Russell Wilson

2.43

3.03

3.3

4.49

2.87

3.32

2011

Robert Griffin III

2.35

3.43

3.3

2.97

2.83

2.92

2012

Geno Smith

1.95

0.8

1.44

3.43

1.70

2.06

2010

Cam Newton

1.24

2.98

2.91

1.44

2.08

1.89

2011

Andrew Luck

2.14

1.43

1.66

1.18

1.90

1.58

2010

Andy Dalton

1.24

1.78

2.03

1.57

1.64

1.53

2011

Brandon Weeden

2.33

1.13

1.18

0.56

1.76

1.34

2010

Ryan Mallett

0.96

2.18

1.9

0.39

1.43

1.18

2012

EJ Manuel

1.36

1.49

1.18

0.08

1.27

0.98

2010

Colin Kaepernick

1

1.17

1.15

0.37

1.08

0.85

2011

Nick Foles

1.71

0.43

0.42

-0.06

1.07

0.69

2012

Matt Barkley

0.55

1.19

1.04

0.15

0.80

0.63

2012

Landry Jones

1.01

0.41

0.57

0.38

0.79

0.60

2012

Ryan Nassib

0.33

0.7

0.71

0.29

0.52

0.44

2011

Brock Osweiler

0.58

0.53

0.49

-0.06

0.54

0.35

2012

Tyler Wilson

0.27

1.09

0.64

-0.41

0.46

0.32

2010

Christian Ponder

0.32

-0.43

0.07

0.28

0.20

0.06

2010

Blaine Gabbert

0.7

-0.53

-0.27

-0.18

0.22

0.00

2011

Ryan Tannehill

0.27

-0.18

-0.06

-0.11

0.11

-0.01

2012

Mike Glennon

-0.39

-0.18

-0.1

-0.26

-0.25

-0.28

2010

Jake Locker

-0.89

-0.43

-0.2

-0.11

-0.55

-0.48

Clearly, these averaged Z-Scores don’t mean everything, but the names on the top half of this list are better than those at the bottom. In general, it looks like the 2014 QB class has a lot of guys in that Andy Dalton to Brandon Weeden range. Ladies and Gentlemen, Welcome to the QB Class of 2014. Prepare to be ambivalent.

You’ll probably notice that Carr has the exact same second averaged Z-Score as Andrew Luck. As I said before, the system isn’t perfect—but Luck does seemingly represent a dreamlike best-case scenario for Carr. He could be a lesser Luck. His more realistic upside is Dalton—and that’s not horrible, but that’s also not likely to improve your dynasty team in a major way. His downside? A younger Weeden. And, hey, that’s better than Gabbert and Locker, right?

 

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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