The 2014 college football season is upon us, which means we’ll get to spend Saturdays this fall checking out the future stars of Sunday. Throughout the season I’ll be writing articles like this, which put some of the best college receivers under the scrutiny of my age-adjusted production model. Today, we’ll look at Dorial Green-Beckham and see if he’s really on track to become the next Calvin Johnson, who is often cited as a comparable.In case this is your first time hearing about Green-Beckham, the short story is that he is a 6’5”, 225 lb. receiver, who was the top-ranked high school recruit in the 2012 class. He signed with Missouri and had some success, but failed to lead the team in market share of yards in both 2012 (trailed Marcus Lucas) and 2013 (trailed L’Damian Washington). The story gets uglier when you consider that he was kicked off the Missouri football team earlier in 2014 for repeated off-the-field incidents before ultimately transferring to Oklahoma. It’s kinda shady and convoluted, but it looks like he will be eligible to play in 2014.
Whatever the technicalities, the fact is that DGB will almost certainly be in the 2015 NFL Draft and is a name we need to monitor. Toward the goal of understanding where he is in his development, let’s compare him to the players that most frequently come up in his scouting reports: Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Plaxico Burress, AJ Green, and Alshon Jeffery.
The trend line represents the college performances of the NFL receivers drafted since 2005 who have posted 150 point fantasy seasons (WR1 territory). There’s some wiggle room on either side of the trend line, but the point is that we can use this as a rough guideline to evaluate receivers while they’re still in college. As you look at the picture, I suggest comparing player seasons both horizontally and vertically.
In Green-Beckham’s case, you’ll notice that his debut season is grouped somewhat closely to Thomas and Jeffery. Of this cohort, it’s good that DGB was the youngest to reach the collegiate field, but the trouble is that he’s about 10 percent below where he “should” have been. Looking at his age 20.7 season, you can see he’s in the same ballpark as Green, which is good, but, again, he’s still well below the desired trajectory. Furthermore, when compared to guys like Johnson, Jeffery, and Thomas, he lost considerable ground to them in that similarly aged season.
Considering that 2014 will be DGB’s age 21.7 season, the trend line would suggest that he should capture about 37 percent market share of yards this year. Obviously that doesn’t mean we should write him off if he ends up with 35 percent, but it’s a target to monitor. You’ll notice that all of his comparables have at least one season comfortably above the line, so it would be nice to see DGB follow suit.
The Bob Stoops Blues
QUICK! Name the best wide receiver that Oklahoma has put into the NFL in recent years . . . Malcolm Kelly? Mark Clayton? Ryan Broyles? Kenny Stills? Juaquin Iglesias? I mean, really, if DGB is/was serious about developing into an elite NFL prospect, why on earth would he chose to go to Oklahoma? Don’t try to tell me it’s about winning–this is about him staying on the field so he can maximize his draft stock. The Sooners have a limited track record of developing useful NFL receivers, forget about stud NFL receivers, and of its recent exports only Clayton was a first-round draft pick.
If you ask me, one of the big problems with OU players is that they are never forced to develop into dominant receivers; the passing game is too equitable. Rather than run the passing attack through a stud receiver, like Oklahoma State, Baylor, etc., OU has a system that’s designed to get the ball to the open guy and make life as easy as possible for the quarterback. Obviously, that has worked out tremendously well for Bob Stoops’ winning percentage, but less so for his receivers’ careers. Here is a list of the highest market share of yards seasons by Oklahoma receivers since 2003.
As you can see, only five Oklahoma receiver seasons in the last 11 years have surpassed 30 percent market share of yards, which is roughly the minimum threshold I use in scouting NFL caliber pass catchers. Yes, there are exceptions, but it’s a pretty safe rule of thumb. Now, remember that we said DGB’s target for this year was 37 percent? If Green-Beckham is to develop into an elite prospect, he’s going to have to perform way better than he has thus far in his college career and at least as good as the best Oklahoma receiver seasons in recent memory. He’ll have a chance to hit that target market-share: The Big XII conference is a perpetual series of 7-on-7 Texas high school football shootouts–ask Tavon Austin, Dez Bryant, and Justin Blackmon what those constant reps and targets can do for your draft stock.
If it doesn’t happen for him soon, I am going to have a really hard time buying the “Dorial Green-Beckham is the next Calvin Johnson” narrative. Yes, DGB’s size and athleticism are rare commodities in their own right, but before we compare him to the best receiver on the planet, let’s see him be even the most productive receiver on his own team.
If you enjoyed this, be sure to check out Is Amari Cooper the Best Wide Receiver Prospect for the 2015 NFL Draft?