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Searching for the Next Miles Austin: The 30 Receiving Prospects Almost No One Is Talking About (Part 1)

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Miles Austin, Victor Cruz, Pierre Garcon, Cecil Shorts, Steve Johnson, Donald Driver, and even Andre Holmes: Three were undrafted, two were seventh-round picks, and one was a sixth-round pick. Shorts, who was selected in the fourth round of the 2011 Draft, was largely considered a reach at the time and was quickly forgotten before he broke out in 2012. All these guys were widely ignored and considered almost worthless when they entered the NFL.

What else do these guys have in common? 1) All of them, with the exception of Johnson, went to small collegiate institutions—and even Johnson’s alma mater, Kentucky, isn’t widely respected within the SEC. By and large, these guys can be considered small-school prospects. 2) All of them, except for Driver, entered the NFL weighing above 200 lbs. In general, these are not small WRs. Not all of them are big, but as a group they’re not small. 3) All of them, with the exception of Cruz, posted final collegiate seasons of at least 1000 scrimmage yards and 10 total TDs. For the most part, these were guys who put up good raw stats right before entering the NFL.

Now, let me say just a few things before my fellow RotoViz brethren slaughter me on the twinned altars of age and market share.

1) Rookie age isn’t an unimportant factor. It’s important. Still, good and contributing players to enter the league at a relatively old age can be found: Cecil Shorts and Victor Cruz were 24-year-old rookies. Last year, Terrance Williams did well as a 24-year-old rookie filling in for Miles Austin on a part-time basis, and despite their advanced ages Charles Johnson and Aaron Mellette were heralded as great dynasty sleepers by some here at RotoViz. All things equal, I want young WRs on my dynasty teams—but if a 24-year-old rookie WR has great college production (and size and/or speed—but let’s just leave those out of this for now), then that receiving prospect deserves attention.

2) Breakout age is important. It’s the proverbial skeleton key. Right now, though, I’m not exactly sure how important it is. What’s more predictive of NFL success?—how a guy did in his last college season? How he did in his best college season? Or how old he was when he first had a good college season? Right now, the RotoViz studisticians are working on creating and tweaking projection models for WRs based (in part) on their collegiate production—but I’m not sure exactly how breakout age should be factored in. It’s important, but for the sake of this article I’m largely ignoring it. For what it’s worth, Austin, Garcon, and Shorts all broke out in college before turning 22 years old.

3) Any long-time readers of RotoViz will likely remember the Cordarrelle Patterson brouhaha that occurred last spring. In short, Shawn Siegele and I disagreed on Patterson’s NFL prospects. Shawn viewed Patterson as a non-prospect, primarily because of his dismal dominator rating. I viewed C-Patz as a decent prospect because of his size, speed, SEC performances, and his overall raw stats. Basically, I thought Patterson had potential (I still do) because I questioned the importance of market share. Almost a year later, Shawn Siegele is hundreds of thousands of dollars richer. That puts everything in perspective, but I still think we can say that I won the first round of what should be at least a five-round affair. Score one for the “non-market share little guy.”

I don’t mean to suggest that market share isn’t important. It’s very important. Of all the metrical tools RotoViz employs, market share is perhaps the most important because it’s the most fundamental. But I thought last spring—and I think now—that market share (just like any raw stat) is a context-dependent metric, and sometimes that context is ignored. Another way of phrasing this is to say that I think raw stats ought not to be ignored in the name of market share. They should be employed together. Otherwise, one risks believing that Brandon LaFell, Stephen Hill, Devin Thomas, Jerome Simpson, Chad Jackson, Troy Williamson, and Tyrone Calico are strong prospects.

If a guy has a good market share but subpar raw stats in his last season, it might not mean that he’s a great receiver who played in an offense that deemphasized the passing game. It might just mean that he’s not very good; he’s the best WR of a bad bunch of receivers; the total number of passes he caught isn’t large enough to provide a sample representative of his true skill; etc. I acknowledge that raw stats (on their own) are probably more problematic than advanced metrics, but on a site that deemphasizes raw stats I guess I’ll be the one to say that (if all things are equal) perhaps I’d rather have a 1200-12 guy than a 800-8 guy even if the first has a dominator rating of 0.29 and the second a DR of 0.39. I’m not saying that raw stats are the answer. I’m just saying that market share isn’t the only answer.

All of this is to say that I’ve found the 1000-10 benchmark useful in looking for underappreciated WRs, especially when I also apply an adjusted speed scale I’ve created. Often the 1000-10 benchmark is accompanied by a strong dominator rating, and that’s great. Sometimes it’s not, but I don’t let that get in my way if other things look good. After all, late-round guys like Antonio Brown, Johnny Knox, Denarius Moore, and Julian Edelman—not to mention undrafted guys like Wes Welker and maybe even Davone Bess—still have their uses.

So that’s the preamble. This list of thirty decent but largely ignored 2014 receiving prospects is a starting point, not a final ranking. Most of these guys won’t even make it to the NFL. Most of them will probably be too slow to attract NFL attention, if they even run a 40 at a pro day. Most of these guys aren’t even in attendance at the NFL Combine, and most of them are D2 or D3 athletes. Still, all of these guys amassed 1000-10 final college seasons (for the guys who played fewer than 12 games, I prorated their raw totals to a 12-game season), so if you’re searching for the next Miles Austin then this list is a decent place to start looking.

The Honorable Mentions

For one reason are another, these five guys didn’t quite make the cut:

Player

School

Year

Rec

Scr Yds

Scr TDs

Rtn TD

Tot TD

Tot MS%

Gms

Pro Rata Yards

Pro Rata TDs

Ht

Combine Wt

2014 Age

Josh Huff

Oregon

2013

62

1168

12

0

12

33.8

13

NA

NA

71

206

23

T.J. Jones

Notre Dame

2013

70

1175

11

0

11

33.39

13

NA

NA

72

188

22

Tevin Reese*

Baylor

*2013

38

867

8

0

8

28.17

9

1156

10.7

70

163

23

Dri Archer

Kent State

2013

68

854

10

1

11

25.1

10

1024.8

13.2

68

173

23

Joe Don Duncan

Dixie State

2013

71

1045

13

0

13

38.27

10

1254

15.6

75

268

??

  • Huff, Jones, and Reese play at schools that are too dominant to make them “small school prospects.” Still, these three WRs aren’t likely to be drafted before Round 4. Right now, of the three my favorite is Huff: nice size and athleticism.
  • Archer is an RB, but I predict that any success he has in the NFL will come primarily as a return man and receiver. Note that, as an RB, he still had a 25.1 DR in 2013. That’s strong.
  • Duncan is a TE from D2’s Dixie State, but the dude can play. With his 10.5-inch hands, Joe Don has the largest mitts of any TE at the 2014 Combine, and he outbenched all other TEs in Inday with an insane 35 reps (the high from last year was 31 by Vance McDonald). Plus, his name is Joe Don. Come on.

The FBS WRs

These four guys from non-major conferences are widely ignored, despite their FBS production:

Player

School

Year

Rec

Scr Yds

Scr TDs

Rtn TD

Tot TD

Tot MS%

Gms

Pro Rata Yards

Pro Rata TDs

Ht

Combine Wt

2014 Age

Alex Neutz*

Buffalo

*2013

61

1023

12

0

12

41.33

13

NA

NA

75

205

??

Willie Snead

Ball State

2013

106

1516

15

0

15

39.42

13

NA

NA

71

195

22

Chandler Jones

San Jose State

2013

79

1368

15

0

15

37.94

12

NA

NA

71

174

23

Austin Franklin

New Mexico State

2013

52

739

7

0

7

44.22

8

1108.5

10.5

71

189

??

  • I’ve talked about Neutz before. As good as he was in 2013, he was even better in 2012. He’s got good size. The only question is whether he has good speed—and even if he’s slowish he could still become a Stevie Johnson type of player. Despite two straight 1000-10 seasons, he wasn’t even invited to the combine.
  • After two strong seasons, Snead is entering the NFL as a true junior. He’s basically the MAC version of Kendall Wright. In other words, he could be the next Antonio Brown.
  • Jones is small. If he turns out to be slow, that won’t be good for his NFL prospects. If he turns out to be fast, he could maybe be the poor man’s Tavon Austin. (Probably not.)
  • Franklin is entering the NFL as a true junior with off-the-field problems. He was suspended for the first 4 games of 2013, but when he played he dominated. Think of him as perhaps the non-Pac and less-talented shorter version of Marquess Wilson.

The Big and Highly Productive WRs

These five WRs all weigh at least 200 lbs and had DRs of at least 40% in their final college seasons:

Player

School

Year

Rec

Scr Yds

Scr TDs

Rtn TD

Tot TD

Tot MS%

Gms

Pro Rata Yards

Pro Rata TDs

Ht

Combine Wt

2014 Age

Jeff Janis

Saginaw Valley St

2013

83

1572

14

0

14

45.24

12

NA

NA

75

219

23

Jeremy Butler

Tenn-Martin

2013

90

1215

10

0

10

50.76

12

NA

NA

75

205

23

Barry Flynn

DePauw

2013

71

891

10

0

10

50.31

10

1069.2

12

77

225

??

Anthony Kemper

Carleton College

2013

61

982

9

0

9

47.69

10

1178.4

10.8

76

215

??

Anthony Muilenburg

Dakota Wesleyan

2013

65

1017

14

0

14

47.47

11

1109.5

15.3

74

200

23

  • Right now, Janis is the frontrunner to be the first non-FBS WR selected in the 2014 Draft. He’s had three straight productive years in the GLIAC, he’s got good size, and we’ll soon find out if he has speed.
  • After transferring to Tenn-Martin in 2012 and playing well in the OVC, Butler outright studded it up in 2013, recording a 50.76 DR, almost exactly what Cecil Shorts did as a senior. Martin wasn’t invited to the combine, but I think he could have Shortsesque NFL impact.
  • I love Barry Flynn. He redshirted at Ball State his freshman year as a TE and never saw the field. He quit the team after one year, transferred to DePauw and became an absolute D3 beast—on the basketball court. He earned all-NCAC basketball honors for two straight years as a forward, leading DePauw in scoring and rebounding. Then, in the fall of 2013, with only one semester of school left, he was encouraged to walk on to the football team, he did, and by the end of the season he was the offense’s focal point. In his only season of actually playing collegiate football, he managed a 50.31 DR. He’s got elite size and, and as a former basketball player he’s probably athletic. Could he be Marques Colston with Antonio Gates’ backstory???
  • Kemper and Muilenburg: They have both have adequate size and elite DRs, but . . . meh. I’m reserving hope for only one D3 superstar, and that guy is Flynn.

So that’s the first half of the list. For info on the Big and Adequately Productive WRs; the Small but Highly Productive WRs; and Small and Merely Adequately Productive WRs, check out Part 2.

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