The profiles below have been updated post-combine for all five receivers featured in this article.
Last week, Ryan Rouillard wrote a great piece on digesting the NFL Combine. He even explained where your rooting interests should lie. I think it’s almost impossible to watch the event and not hope each successive prospect runs faster than the last. This year it should be fun to follow one group in particular: the small wide receivers.
In my recent WR Holy Grail article, I took a look at the receivers in our database from 2006 to the present and identified 136 who appear to have established themselves as clear hits or misses. Of those players, 26 are receivers who weighed-in below 200 pounds and were drafted in the first three rounds. 17 of those players were busts, which helps to underline just how important weight can be.
But just as we saw when we looked at the entire sample, there are very different profiles for the hits versus the misses.
I would prefer a much larger player pool to feel completely confident in these stats, but the results do generally fit with our previous conclusions. The hits were younger and represented a bigger share of their teams’ receiving market share (Dominator Rating or DR). Those two metrics seem fairly well written in stone.
Breaking with the pattern from the overall sample, the hits ran significantly faster times than the misses. When you ignore weight, the hits ran an average 40 time of 4.48. For small receivers, the average for hits is 4.41 and five of the nine players ran a sub-4.4. This would tend to emphasize the idea that 40 times are overrated for receivers in general but simultaneously suggest that speed might be underrated for small receivers.
The 2014 Class
This is an intriguing season for smaller prospects. While the draft is deep at receiver in general, it is also deep in quality sub-200 lb. receivers. The draft could see as many as four such wideouts go in the first round. In all likelihood, two will slip into the second and be joined by Paul Richardson in the third.
Of the five players, the only one who didn’t post a single-season collegiate market share of 39% or better was Odell Beckham – Marqise Lee registered 42% in 2012 – but even Beckham’s 0.35 is basically in line with the historical average of hits. Beckham, Brandin Cooks, and Jarvis Landry are all significantly better than the average age as well. (You can find great information like market share yards, market share touchdowns, yards per target, and red zone touchdown rate by using the WR College Career App. To find the ages for all of 2014’s prospects, check out Johnny Manziel and the 2014 Draft Age Project.)
As you approach fantasy draft season, keep in mind how difficult it is for quality burners like DeSean Jackson and T.Y. Hilton to make consistent contributions game-to-game and year-to-year. On the other hand, if you’re going to draft small receivers, this might just be the year to do it. I’m going to look at the individual receivers, make some possible historical comparisons, and then propose somewhat fanciful scenarios for what their futures might hold based on how fast each player runs at the Combine.
Note: While the specific scenarios and the emphasis on 40 times aren’t meant to be taken overly seriously, I’ve made every effort to provide comps that reflect the DR, weight, and age of the prospects. Most of the comps you’ll hear during Combine coverage will focus on theoretical stylistic similarities instead of what I would consider these more important elements.
I’ve already given you the Dominator Ratings. In creating these profiles, I’m going to use Games Dominated, a stat the Fantasy Douche created in one of my favorite articles of the year.
Games Dominated: 18 Weight: 192 Age: 23.1
Optimistic Comp: A pre-injury, pre-attitude Santonio Holmes (4.35)
The Positive Scenario: Lee runs a 4.37 forty, teams suddenly realize that he “dominated” 50% of the games in which he appeared, a stark contrast to the 29% for Sammy Watkins. The former Trojan gains buzz as the possible first wideout selected.
The Negative Scenario: Lee runs a 4.49 and teams project him as Kendall Wright with potential injury problems. In such a deep draft, he falls out of the first round entirely.
What actually happened: Lee ran a 4.52 which seems fairly disastrous for a speed receiver, but he did show up better in the other drills. The Fantasy Douche has demonstrated that the leaping drills are highly correlated with overall athleticism, and Lee bested Sammy Watkins in the vertical jump, broad jump, and short shuttle. I’m one of the few people in either the analyst or scouting community who feels Lee is a significantly better pure receiver than Watkins, and his 40 time could make him a bargain. Lee no longer seems like an option for the Detroit Lions at No. 10 but could still be in play for Kansas City at No. 23. With the depth of this class, the most likely scenario sees him falling out of the first round and to the Browns or Raiders early in Round 2.
Games Dominated: 6 Weight: 198 Age: 22.2
The two closest comps are probably Harvin and Cobb, which is a big positive. Even though they both came out at a slightly younger age, their weight and Dominator Ratings were similar. Avery was the best weight/DR comp but was a very old prospect.
The Positive Scenario: Beckham runs a 4.39 and confirms his status as another Harvin. While perhaps not quite as multi-faceted as Seattle’s high-paid decoy, teams break ties on their board in Beckham’s favor due to his abilities as an elite returner. The Jets reach for him at No. 18 overall.
The Negative Scenario: Beckham runs a 4.5 and teams “go back to the tape” to discover he’s not the same level of player as Jarvis Landry. He falls into the late second round.
What actually happened: Beckham ran a 4.43, essentially splitting the difference between his Harvin and Cobb comps. He also leapt 38.5 inches and ripped off a 10.64 Agility Score, confirming the athleticism that helped him post an elite 12.8 yards per target in 2013. It’s still a concern that he trailed teammate Jarvis Landry in receiving market share, but it’s now much more likely that he’ll be the third receiver off the board. He should battle Lee and Brandin Cooks for that distinction, making my original positive scenario (Jets at No. 18) seem fairly reasonable.
Games Dominated: 14 Weight: 189 Age: 21.3
Optimistic Comp: T.Y. Hilton (4.37)
Cooks is the youngest wide receiver in the 2014 Draft, which means he doesn’t have any clear comps. If you make the appropriate age adjustments, you could make a case for Cooks alongside former collegiate greats like Marvin Harrison or Torry Holt.
The Positive Scenario: Cooks runs a 4.34 forty and electrifies the Combine audience in the agility drills. With everyone whispering that he’s a young Steve Smith, the Oregon State alum is picked by the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 23. Andy Reid sees him as a better version of DeSean Jackson and without all the drama.
The Negative Scenario: Cooks runs a 4.46 and, although GMs still realize that he “plays faster in pads,” they opt to select the heavier receivers in the first round and early second. He’s drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the mid-second after they miss on their pledge to get Big Ben a big target.
What actually happened: Cooks absolutely blew the doors off the Combine, scorching a 4.33. Among the nine “hits” referenced earlier, only Mike Wallace ran faster. He then easily led the position in the short shuttle with a 3.81. Cooks is a far superior prospect to Tavon Austin a year ago, but he’ll fall much further in the draft unless Watkins and Combine riser Mike Evans both go earlier than expected – say No. 2 to St. Louis and No. 5 to Oakland. If that happens, it’s not impossible he could go No. 10 to Detroit. The much more likely scenario sees him getting snapped up by the Chiefs as originally predicted or by the Browns at No. 26.
Games Dominated: 10 Weight: 205 Age: 22.1
Optimistic Comps: Greg Jennings (4.42)
Neutral Comp: Golden Tate (4.42)
Although Landry is occasionally mocked as high as No. 23 to Kansas City, he’s frequently the forgotten man in discussions of the 2014 class. Update: Landry weighed in at 205 pounds, which obviously lifts him out of the sub-200 category. His height/weight profile still fits more of a No. 2 role at the NFL level, making his 40 time important.
The Positive Scenario: Landry runs a 4.40 and is drafted by the Cleveland Browns to be their complement to Josh Gordon.
The Negative Scenario: Landry runs a 4.51 and draws comparisons to Kendall Wright – not the Wright who was overdrafted by the Titans, but the very solid possession receiver he’s morphed into. He’s still scooped up by Detroit early in Round 2.
So that happened: Landry’s Combine started off on a high note as he weighed 205 pounds, a few more than expected, but unmitigated disaster was shortly to follow. NFL receivers can’t post a mark of 28 inches in the vertical or run a 4.77 forty. It was almost to the collective relief of Combine watchers everywhere when Landry left with a calf injury and avoided further embarrassment. There will be the inevitable mentions of Anquan Boldin and Keenan Allen, and in some ways those comparisons are more justified than usual. It just doesn’t make sense that a player could rack up Landry’s numbers at LSU if he can’t play. Especially for those who believe the Combine is overrated, Landry should be targeted as Keenan Allen 2.0.
Games Dominated: 13 Weight: 175 Age: 22.7
Optimistic Comp: DeSean Jackson (4.35)
Unless Richardson times very poorly, DeSean Jackson will be the closest comp. His weight, age, and games dominated numbers are very similar. Richardson dominated almost twice as many games as Titus Young (13-7).
The Positive Scenario: Richardson runs a 4.32, verifying his comp to DJax and conjuring images of a more technically sound Mike Wallace. He doesn’t break into the loaded first round but is drafted early in the second by Martin Mayhew, a GM who’s never met a small receiver he didn’t like.
The Negative Scenario: He runs a 4.45 and scouts conclude his frame is too thin for Richardson to be more than a situational deep threat in the NFL. He falls past the second tier of big receivers – guys like Donte Moncrief, Cody Hoffman, and Jared Abbrederis – and isn’t selected until early on Day Three.
What actually happened: Richardson won’t get the same bump as Brandin Cooks, but his 4.4 forty was faster than the much trumpeted Watkins. You have to like the Clemson star – 2014’s top WR by acclamation – due to weight and age, but Richardson is not only faster, he jumped four inches higher, averaged 1.7 yards more per reception last season, and clobbered him in Dominator Rating (.46 to .32). If Richardson is selected as the 10th or 11th receiver somewhere between 50 and 80 overall, those who discount weight should target him as a value play in rookie drafts.
If you want a closer pre-combine look at the some of the other early round prospects, I’ve covered them all in Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, and the Early Wide Receiver Rankings. The data showing why age, weight, and Dominator Rating are so important can be found in The Three Holy Grail Components to Wide Receiver Evaluation. Yesterday, I explained why rigorous NFL Draft analysis can supercharge your fantasy team.
Articles I used as a resource for this piece included: Games Dominated – Another Measure of Prospect Production, Dominator Rating and Breakout Age – Visualizing 2014’s WRs, Figuring Out the Red Zone TD Rate Puzzle, and The RotoViz Skeleton Key – Picking Better Wide Receivers for Fantasy Football.