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Combing the Combine for Distance Touchdown Production
Kevin Bain
Kevin Bain

Combing the Combine with Distance Touchdown Production

While perusing the aftermath from our trip to the NFL’s version of a gentlemen’s club, the combine, I thought I was seeing a strong relationship between explosion score and distance scoring, big plays guys. That’s not an epiphany by any means mind you; telling you guys that jump higher and further are going to make more explosive plays isn’t some stroke of brilliance, that’s why the original metric was appropriately titled by the Viz’s right hand man, Shawn Siegele. Exactly how much correlation does it have with long touchdown gains is what I’m setting out to discover.

I Feel the Need…for Speed

Of course speed has major importance to distance scoring as well; you need to be able to run away from defenders once you’re past them. Combining both explosion and speed into the easy bake, we come away with XSPD, which is very simply a player’s explosion score divided by his unadjusted 40 time. This let’s some of the smaller speed based players in the door and gives us a look at the real impact of speed and distance based touchdowns.  Remember, 40 times are important for small receivers.

To give a real quick visual, Calvin Johnson has an explosion score of 181.5 and ran a 4.35 forty during the 2007 combine, leaving him with a 41.7 XSPD score. I considered doubling the score for aesthetic purposes, but the thresholds line up fairly similarly with House RotoViz staples, Market shares and Dominator Rating. An above average score is 35, and anything above a 37 is considered having some big juice.

Although I didn’t have access to the highly coveted RotoViz WR database, I do happen to keep one of my own. We’re looking at 133 prospects and results from the combine (and a few pro days) since 2006 mixed with an extra dozen of upper echelon draftees since 1999 (like Andre Johnson). I may not have keys to dad’s car, but since this is more of a search and find mission, it will do just fine.

Our cutoff for distance based scoring is anything 30 yards or longer. That may seems like an arbitrary number, but only 21.9 percent of all passing touchdowns since 2009 have met that criteria. We’re talking 826 scores of the past 3,764. That puts us at on average of about 10 per every week (9.7 to be exact). 2013 was no different either, as 167 of the 805 touchdown tosses (20.7 percent) were of that length or greater. Plus, if you go to any player page at Pro Football Reference, the last subcategory for yardage touchdowns is 30 or greater, so there.  For this measure, I’ve also included any runs or kick returns into the equation.

This really kills a few birds with one fantasy stone. The first is that I care about touchdowns more than any anything else in fantasy, and you should as well. When building my team, more specifically in this case, my receiver corps around those scores, I want to build from the goal line out. The further you are away from the end zone, the lower your odds are of scoring. (fantasy and real football doesn’t have to be hard, we just make it so).

By finding out if XSPD has a real correlation to players that are dependent on distance scoring for the bulk of their fantasy output, I can narrow down players that I personally want to avoid. I hate to discriminate against the one thing I cherish most, but I want my touchdowns to come with consistency. If a player is scoring a ton of touchdowns near the end zone AND comes with that XSPD bonus, those are the guys I want to target. Those are receivers who come with tremendous lower body strength; they can hit an extra gear in the open field while also being capable to leap tall defenders in a single bound.

If none of that interests you, at the very least I’m going to pinpoint which players are the best at scoring from far away. If you’re in a league that awards any type of yardage based bonuses on scoring plays these are the players that will give you an edge.

The Results

I won’t bog down the entire post until the very bottom with the actual individual results, but this is the breakdown of the totals.

35+ XSPD

# WR

TD

30+ TD

%

ALL

74

1218

437

35.9%

1-3 RD.

46

931

354

38.0%

4-UDFA

28

287

83

28.9%

<35 XSPD

# WR

TD

30+ TD

%

ALL

71

938

284

30.3%

1-3 RD.

38

668

218

32.6%

4-UDFA

33

270

66

24.4%

 

  • Not only did the players with an above average XSPD score more often from far away, they also did so as a whole entirely no matter the distance. With just a three player difference overall, above average XSPD scorers have scored 280 more total touchdowns so far in their careers.
  • One of the components to the Wide Receiver Holy Grail is draft position, which can often be an overlooked thing when we get enamored with the metrics of a prospect. Combining XSPD with draft position creates a huge separation here. Players taken in the first three rounds with a 35+ XSPD were on average three total touchdowns and two distance scores better per player than those below average taken in the first three rounds.
  • Torry Holt, Greg Jennings and Chad Johnson’s 72 distance scores make up 33 percent of the early rounders that were below average in XSPD.
  • Jennings, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones all register as XSPD misses for early rounders. They also happen to have a pretty awesome common denominator throwing them the football.
  • Three players (A.J. Jenkins, Markus Wheaton and Limas Sweed) failed to score a touchdown on the positive side of the score for early rounders.  The Sweed night terrors are likely still why Pittsburgh hasn’t taken another big receiver since.
  • The only players from the positive first round group that have scored touchdowns in their career and still hold a zero percentage are Kendall Wright (0/6 TD), Mohamed Sanu (0/6), the other Steve Smith (0/12), and James Hardy (0/2).
  • A few late round noteable hits were Pierre Garcon, Victor Cruz, Miles Austin and Marques Colston.
  • This metric has a good hit rate for avoiding late round fliers. Antonio Brown is the only late round player (4-UDFA) with a below average XSPD that has double digit career distance scores with a percentage above the league average.
  • DeSean Jackson and Mike Wallace lead all receivers in distance reception scores since 2009 with 21 each. Robert Meachem has 15 and Calvin Johnson and Jordy Nelson have 14 over the past five years.

Did it Show In 2013?

Looking at all of the receivers who scored three or more distance touchdowns in 2013 with their XSPD score, we can see what kind of hit rate we’re looking at for getting those splash plays into your fantasy life.

PlayerDist. TDXSPD
Josh Gordon734.8
Demaryius Thomas6N/A
Antonio Brown630.4
Cordarrelle Patterson637.3
Kenny Stills536
DeSean Jackson535.5
A.J. Green435.8
Vernon Davis438.8
Jimmy Graham437.5
Riley Cooper432.5
Tavon Austin435
Calvin Johnson341.7
Alshon Jeffery335.4
Marquise Goodwin340.8
Justin Hunter339.5
Ted Ginn3N/A
Dez Bryant337.8

Thomas and Ginn were both injured and never recorded full combine results. I would assume that XSPD would definitely favor Thomas, but by default, we can’t count either.

  • Gordon was just below the mark basing his metrics off of the pro day he held. He never ran a second forty after pulling a quad, but he’s a fringe miss based on the criteria.
  • Antonio Brown laughs in the face of any analytical measure for success. He was the 195th player taken in 2010 and is the meanest RotoViz antagonist there is.
  • I kept the tight ends in as well just to show how the hit rate holds water. In the end, after tossing out Thomas and Ginn, an above average XSPD score corresponded with 12 of the remaining 15 leaders.
  • You see a lot of 2013 rookies there. All in all the entire rookie class scored 33 total touchdowns with 24 coming from 30 yards or greater. That makes sense since I consider distance scoring to have more correlation with pure athletic ability than the honing of the craft, resulting in their low TD totals when the field shrinks.

2014 Rookies

You didn’t think I’d leave out how this all ties into the new rookie class did you? Now that the combine is over, we can take a peek at which ones clocked in and jumped over our XSPD radar. I’ve added in each player’s college touchdown production (including rushing and return scores) and what round they are projected to be drafted in based off the CBS draft breakdown.  If you want to look at more individual receiving production filtered per play, hit the college receiver stat filter.

Player40YDVertBroadExplosionXSPDTD30+ TD%Proj. Round
Albert Wilson4.4337.5123160.536.28562.50%7-FA
Allen Robinson4.63912716636.117847.10%02-Jan
Brandin Cooks4.33361201563626934.60%02-Jan
Bruce Ellington4.4539.5120159.535.817635.30%04-Mar
Davante Adams4.5639.5123162.535.6381436.80%2
Devin Street4.553712416135.416743.80%05-Apr
Donte Moncrief4.439.5132171.539201260.00%04-Mar
Jalen Saunders4.443412215635.1291241.40%5
Jeff Janis4.4237.5123160.536.3171164.70%06-May
John Brown4.3436.5119155.535.817741.20%7-FA
Marqise Lee4.523812716536.5311961.30%1
Martavis Bryant4.423912416336.913753.80%03-Feb
Michael Campanaro4.463912216136.117635.30%06-May
Odell Beckham Jr.4.4338.5122160.536.212866.70%02-Jan
Paul Richardson4.43812416236.8211257.10%03-Feb
Robert Herron4.4835.5125160.535.820840.00%03-Feb
Sammy Watkins4.433412616036.1292069.00%1
Tevin Reese4.464113217338.8242291.70%7-FA

Only senior seasons for Brown and Janis were tallied since I had to go through individual game logs to find their per play results.

  • Reese has the second highest score but comes with a pretty undraftable grade for fantasy purposes. He’s pretty much a smaller and slower version of Marquise Goodwin, only a team won’t waste a premium pick on him.
  • The fact that Adams and Cooks don’t rely as heavily on length based touchdowns but can score them makes them much better in my eyes. Ryan Rouillard has already highlighted that Adams comes with stellar red zone production built in. Cooks isn’t my type of player, but if you’re going to like a small-ish guy, he’s lining up like an exception worth making.
  • Watkins relied on nearly 70 percent of his touchdown production to come outside of the football phone booth. He’s considered safer to most outside of Viz circles,that could very problematic if that dependency carries over. Jon Moore has pointed out that we’ve already seen this kind of resume from a receiver just a year ago that went later.
  • Moncrief comes with the requisite size and has the absolute highest score here. His 39.0 score gives him the ninth highest score in my database (more below). I adore him and so does Jacob Myers, and I don’t see any way that 3-4 grade holds water come draft time. He has the highest ceiling of any receiver in this draft from a physical perspective, outside of maybe Robinson, but he does  come with considerably low floor comps.
  • You’ll notice the absence of Jordan Matthews, who I consider the safest receiver in the draft. Unfortunately, that safety is very likely to come from consistent underneath production, something his low yards per target suggests. I see Matthews’s ceiling as hybrid of Eric Decker and A.J. Green if he can grow in the red zone, both of which show up on this exceedingly optimistic comp list.
  • If you play in return leagues, Brown, Saunders and Beckham are the go to picks for production. Brown is a Matt Freedman favorite and had distance scores from returns, runs and receptions. Beckham has NFL kickoff returner written all over him, even if he fails as a receiver.

The Ones Who Matter

I saved this for the end as promised, but here is a list of the above average XSPD scores from the players drafted within the first three rounds along with sortable combine and touchdown results (currently in order of draft selection).  This really helps separate those completely distance score reliant. Combining XSPD with other requisite thresholds can help avoid even more volatility at an already volatile position.

Player’s between 25-35 percent for distance percentage tend to be better complete receivers judging by the table.  Players over 40 percent I would consider very volatile (factor in sample size so far) and probably won’t own or purchase under normal scoring settings.

Hopefully soon, we’ll look at this a little deeper and analyze some of the hits and missed from players selected in the later portion of the draft or not at all, but for now Marvin McNutt will have to be left out (busted my first RotoViz McNutt). [Note to Editor: You’re probably going to want to edit that.] [Note from Editor: Nope, I loved it.]  I’ve also placed all results coming from a player’s pro day workout in bold for you if you wish to take them with a grain of salt.

Top XSPD Scorers

PlayerYearDraft Pos.VertBroadExplosion40YDXSPDTD30+ TD%
Calvin Johnson2007242.5139181.54.3541.7672131.3%
Andre Johnson20033411291704.4138.5611829.5%
A.J. Green2011434.5126160.54.4835.8291137.9%
Justin Blackmon20125351231584.4835.36350.0%
Julio Jones2011638.5135173.54.3440.020840.0%
Darrius Heyward-Bey2009738.5126164.54.2538.712650.0%
Tavon Austin20138321201524.3435.06466.7%
Koren Robinson2001938.5123161.54.6135.018738.9%
Michael Floyd20121336.5122158.54.436.07342.9%
Javon Walker20022039.5126165.54.3837.8321237.5%
Kendall Wright20122038.5121159.54.4935.5600.0%
Percy Harvin20092237.5121158.54.3936.1301343.3%
Dwayne Bowe200723331251584.5135.0451226.7%
Dez Bryant201024381331714.5237.8421228.6%
Jon Baldwin201126421291714.4938.12150.0%
Robert Meachem20072737.5121158.54.3936.1291758.6%
Roddy White200527411261674.4637.4551934.5%
Cordarrelle Patterson201329371281654.4237.39666.7%
A.J. Jenkins20123038.5124162.54.3737.2000.0%
Kenny Britt200930371241614.4935.919421.1%
Donnie Avery20083337.5126163.54.4336.916531.3%
Justin Hunter20133439.5136175.54.4439.54375.0%
James Hardy20084131.5125156.54.4535.2200.0%
Eddie Royal200842361241604.3936.421523.8%
Stephen Hill20124339.5133172.54.2840.34250.0%
Sidney Rice20074439.5119158.54.5135.130930.0%
Alshon Jeffery20124536.5122158.54.4835.410440.0%
DeSean Jackson20084934.5120154.54.3535.5392769.2%
Mohamed Massaquoi20095036.5127163.54.635.57228.6%
Steve Smith200751381201584.4435.61200.0%
Limas Sweed200853351281634.4836.4000.0%
Devin Hester200657381241624.4136.7332678.8%
Torrey Smith201158411261674.4137.919526.3%
Aaron Dobson201359351211564.3735.74250.0%
Greg Little20115940.5129169.54.5137.68112.5%
Golden Tate201060351201554.4235.115426.7%
Vincent Jackson200561391291684.4637.7521223.1%
DeVier Posey20126836.5123159.54.3936.3100.0%
Steve Smith20017438.5121159.54.4136.2763242.1%
Marquise Goodwin201378421321744.2740.733100.0%
Markus Wheaton201379371201574.4535.3000.0%
Emmanuel Sanders20108239.5126165.54.437.61119.1%
Mohamed Sanu201283361261624.6235.1600.0%
Mike Wallace200984401291694.2839.5372156.8%
Andre Roberts201088361201564.435.511436.4%
T.Y. Hilton*20129235.5119154.54.3735.415960.0%

 

 

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