Continuing with a tradition started last year of visualizing prospect careers, I wanted to put this wide receiver class to the test.
To be clear, this is more of an exploratory exercise than anything, but I think it’s helpful to see how a player progressed through the years.
On each graph, you’ll notice a trend line, which was created by plotting the college careers of receivers drafted since 2006 who have posted a 150 point fantasy season.1 The trend line represents what those guys were doing in college in terms of age and market share of receiving yards.
All ages are pulled from the 2016 NFL Draft Age Database.
Laquon Treadwell continues to lead all receivers in the RotoViz Scouting Index, but his career trajectory doesn’t scream “slam dunk prospect” to me. Widely considered to be a top 15 overall pick in the draft, I made the case recently that he’s almost an identical prospect to Donte Moncrief, who went 90th overall in 2014. Rich Hribar has some interesting thoughts on whether he should be the No. 1 pick in rookie drafts.
Corey Coleman and Will Fuller are a similar size2 and enjoyed comparable performance over their final two seasons. Before this exercise, I wasn’t sure I liked Fuller all that much, and I still might not. But it hadn’t really occurred to me that he could be in Coleman’s league. More to learn about those two.
Josh Doctson is probably the biggest disappointment in this cohort. Although some of our other writers don’t really care that he’s older, I do. To be clear, he was a great college player in 2015, but within the context of him being projected as a first round pick, I think that’s too pricy. I can see him having a nice NFL career, but I’d rather pursue a few guys from this next cohort in the second or third round than draft Doctson in the first.
Tyler Boyd is phenomenal. All three of his seasons plot above the trend line and his age 20 campaign was better than what any eventual 150-point fantasy receiver accomplished in college. More than just his receiving prowess, he’s a darn good return man too.
Rashard Higgins might be the discount Tyler Boyd. While his market share was never quite as elite as Boyd’s, it was rock solid, and, physically, he is almost identical to Boyd based on the NFL combine measurements. And if you believe in judging receivers by their best season, rather than their last, Higgins’ 2014 was otherworldly. In the grand scheme of this receiver class, he seems overlooked despite his high upside.
While some people think Sterling Shepard is Tyler Lockett 2.0, I’m not one of them. Yes, he was outstanding in 2014, but he didn’t have multiple years of epic production like Lockett did. Shepard’s athleticism is going to be a huge factor for where he ultimately shakes out for me.
Full disclosure on Ohio State’s Michael Thomas: I’m not 100 percent positive about how old he is. Similar to Kevin White last year, there is great mystery about his age. I’ve plotted him based on the premise that he was born in 1993. If it turns out he was born in 1994, his plot would look a little better. As it stands, he’s one of the better receivers to come out of an Urban Meyer offense, and I think he’s a worthy top 100 talent. But I think he’s probably more “NFL useful” than “NFL great”.
Braxton Miller barely registers here, thanks to his late career switch. He’s a massive project, in my opinion, and might actually be a better running back prospect.
Pharoh Cooper doesn’t get nearly enough attention, but he can ball. He did everything for South Carolina during his career including run, pass, return, receive and play defense. Even though he’s on the shorter side (5-11) he weighs 203 pounds, which gives him a pretty sturdy frame.
Over his last two seasons at Rutgers, Leonte Carroo averaged a whopping 12.7 yards per target on 149 targets, which is easily the best of this year’s NFL combine invitees. Standing 6-feet tall and 211 pounds, he reminds me of a Hakeem Nicks or DeAndre Hopkins type prospect, who checks a ton of the boxes from a metrics perspective. He’s one of my top-5 receivers in this class and almost certainly destined to be this year’s RotoViz Reach rookie receiver.
Akin to Devin Funchess from last year’s draft, De’Runnya Wilson is this year’s monster wide receiver with questionable production. I really want to get on board with Wilson, but he was pretty underwhelming in his two year career, especially considering he had a pretty good quarterback in Dak Prescott throwing him the ball. Why wasn’t he used more? Why wasn’t he more efficient with his opportunities?
I don’t really get the love for Kenny Lawler. No seasons above 20 percent of his team’s yards? C’MON, MAN!
My longtime prospect crush, Tajae Sharpe, dominates this tier and it’s not particularly close. He and Tyler Boyd are the only players with three seasons above the trend line, which is a pretty remarkable achievement. One of my colleagues even went as far as to call Sharpe the discount Tyler Boyd. Sharpe, Boyd, and two of 2015’s most surprising rookies, Jamison Crowder and Stefon Diggs, are the only players in the last two draft classes to be above the trend line for all three years .
Malcolm Mitchell’s career took a circuitous route, but he was actually pretty good at 19 and 23 years old. I’m curious to see how athletic he is. He’s the epitome of why this exercise is helpful, because you can see the relationship between performance and age.
Bralon Addison has some special teams juju, but has never been that great a receiver at Oregon.
Speaking of Oregon receivers, I wrote about Aaron Burbridge late in the season and thought of him as a Josh Huff-esque prospect. I know Huff’s career has been uneventful so far, but I think the point is more that Burbridge looks a lot like a third- or fourth-round pick, which makes him a name worth knowing.
Demarcus Robinson is a guy I was really excited about after his 2014 season, but he never became Jim McElwain’s “Florida Rashard Higgins” like I thought he might. He surprisingly entered the draft despite a disappointing 2015. Maybe it’s a case where 2014 is the “real him” and 2015 went sour with a new coaching staff.
Kolby Listenbee made it to the NCAA Track Championships for the 100 meter dash, where he ran a 10.04. He’s played second fiddle to Josh Doctson in the TCU passing game, but even with his low market share, it’s worth noting that he’s been ultra efficient.
I honestly can’t think of anything worthwhile to say about Jordan Payton or Geronimo Allison. They’re both respectable major conference receivers, but unless one of them is uber-athletic, I don’t think there’s anything here.
Similar to Malcolm Mitchell’s up-and-down college career, Keyarris Garrett started and ended his career with a bang, with little in between. At 6-3, 220 pounds, I’ve called him this year’s “great height hope” amid a slew of undersized prospects and long, lean receivers.
Thomas Duarte is participating in the NFL combine as a tight end, although he was primarily a receiver at UCLA. He’s got a nose for the end zone and is still really young, so I’m curious to see how things play out for him. As a pure receiver prospect, he’s a little underwhelming, but as an Aaron Hernandez or Jordan Reed-type tight end, he could be pretty fascinating.
Cayleb Jones had a huge bowl game to end his career, but it wasn’t enough to draw much interest from me.
Nelson Spruce shouldered a respectable portion of the Colorado passing game over his career, especially in 2014 and 2015. That said, he’s definitely more of a possession receiver, averaging only 7.9 yards-per-target on 286 targets over the last two seasons.
Demarcus Ayers only has one strong season, but over his career he was such a diverse contributor that I recently compared him to T.Y. Hilton and Antonio Brown. At 5-8, 182 pounds, he needs to be lightning quick at the Combine, but I think he could be a sort of John Brown or J.J. Nelson type prospect.
Matt Freedman loves Roger Lewis and his career arch is pretty solid. Obviously he’s not a top prospect, but he certainly looks a lot better than many guys ahead of him. Considering he was once an Ohio State commit, you know Lewis has some talent and athleticism.
I’ve said before that Byron Marshall could be a Randall Cobb-type prospect. His plot looks underwhelming because he switched to receiver in 2014 after playing running back. Also, his 2015 was cut short due to injury. At 5-9, 201 pounds, he’s got a thick build and has the unique distinction of having a 1,000 yard rushing season to his name along with a 1,000 yard receiving season.
Charone Peake was a uber-athletic recruit who never did much for Clemson. Maybe you could say he suffered some of the same teammate quality issues that Martavis Bryant faced at Clemson, but even when a window opened for him in 2015, thanks to Mike Williams’ injury, he didn’t really step up; a freshman did.
Marquez North was a top recruit and looks great in terms of breakout age, but it’s baffling how much he regressed over the last two years. Greg Conejo has already flagged North as a late-round rookie draft target based purely on his pedigree, size and early breakout.
If you don’t know the name Hunter Sharp, you might want to check this out. As a JUCO transfer, he made a pretty big impact in two years at Utah State.
Chris Moore and Cody Core probably didn’t need to be on here, but they’re two of my favorite low market share – high efficiency receivers to keep tabs on in this class.