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4 Super Productive Wide Receivers Ready For NFL Success

If you’ve been reading anything I’ve published over the past couple weeks,1 you know that I’ve been using regression trees in an attempt to gain insight into what NFL combine drills matter for running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends. Plus, we found the running backs and wide receivers who won the combine.

My most recent post combined age, production and combine measurables for wide receiver prospects into the same regression tree, and the outcome was unexpected, but understandable: combine measurables don’t matter for predicting NFL success, at least in comparison to collegiate production.

The resulting regression tree differentiated between wide receiver prospects heavily by receiving market share (career and final year), efficiency (yards per reception), and for those with lower career market share, age.

Now that we have the templates for wide receiver success, we can apply them to the 2016 class and find those most likely to find stardom in the NFL.

Here’s a look back at the actual tree:

wr_tree_prod_meas

The first decision node is at career market share of 29 percent, with those with at least that amount and 42 percent or better final-year share making it into the highest projected-success-rate leaf of roughly 61 percent.

The second best projected outcome for wide receiver prospects, according to the tree, is to hit the 29 percent career market share, miss on the 42 percent final-year share, but best 16 yards per reception. In other words, the tree projects almost an equal success rate (57 percent) for those who fail the 42 percent final-year share test as those who do, as long as the prospect is also efficient from a yards-per-reception perspective.

Why Is Career Market Share So Important?

I don’t have the definitive answer to why career market share is seen as the most important stat (the first split) in the regression tree analysis. But, I do have some theories. First, there is a built-in age component in career market share that isn’t as prevalent in final-year numbers, with those breaking out earlier in their careers more likely to have larger career shares. Second, and perhaps more importantly, career numbers provide a much larger sample, potentially reducing the noise present in the smaller, final-year numbers. Over a receiver’s entire college career, he likely has to play under a number of different circumstances – different teammates to compete with for targets, different quarterbacks, etc. – and his ability to perform under those diverse circumstances gives a better indication of actual talent.

How Does the 2016 Class Measure Up?

treePlot_wr_2016_3

I couldn’t think of a great way to get all the three dimensions that determine which of the two (if any) most successful leaves a prospects falls into – career market share, final-year market share, and yards per reception – perfectly into one plot. That said, I think the visualization above gives a good layout of the 2016 class. The yellow area indicates a career market share of receiving yards of at least 29 percent, the blue area represents final-year share at-or-above 42 percent, the green area encompasses hitting both the career and final-season shares, and the data points are red or purple based on whether that receiver had over 16 yards per reception his final-season.

There are only two data points that hit on both share measures, zero outside of the green area that hit on the final-season share target, and nine prospects with at least a career market share of 29 percent.

Where Do The Top Prospects Fall?

treePlot_wr_2016_top

The Share Monsters

Name College Draft Age Career MS Yds MS Yds Career MS TDs Yds/Rec
Leonte Carroo Rutgers 22.4 0.36 0.49 0.57 20.7
Tajae Sharpe Massachusetts 21.5 0.32 0.43 0.26 11.9

Leonte Carroo and Tajae Sharp are the only receivers in the 2016 class to hit both the thresholds to make the top-tier leaf for NFL success.2 Carroo had the third-best career market share of 2016 receivers, and the best final-year share. While it doesn’t matter to his placement on the regression tree, Carroo also easily bested the 16 yards-per-reception threshold in the lower final-year market share branch. Carroo has gotten some hype recently, and there was nothing disappointing about his NFL combine performance.3 Depending on where you look, Carroo is seen going in the NFL draft from the third to the mid-first round. Is Carroo a RotoViz Reach or a bona fide WR1? Everything about his production profile points to the latter.

Tajae Sharp isn’t a name you see in the same sentence with the top-tier prospects, but his receiving share numbers are elite. However, Sharp is less of a field-stretcher than Carroo (reflected in his slowish combine forty time for his size; 4.55 seconds at 194 pounds), and his smaller-school pedigree must be kept in mind. Sharp is rated higher than I expected by the “sharp”4 rankers at Dynasty League Football, as the WR10 of the 2016 class. The experts at NFL Draft Scout still have Sharp as the WR21 of the class, or a fourth-to-fifth round pick in the reality NFL draft. Some might see Sharp as your generic brand Tyler Boyd, but Sharp’s higher final-year market share might make him the better prospect.

The Field-Stretchers

Name College Draft Age Career MS Yds MS Yds Career MS TDs Yds/Rec
William Fuller Notre Dame 22.2 0.29 0.37 0.45 20.3
Roger Lewis Bowling Green State 22.6 0.30 0.30 0.36 18.2

William Fuller is a consensus top-five prospect in the NFL draft community, so he might not come at a discount to his likelihood of NFL success. Fuller was right at the 29 percent career market share threshold, but he easily topped the 16 yards per reception necessary to make it into the 57 percent success bucket. Fuller ran a blazing 4.32 forty at the combine, so we shouldn’t expect his stock to drop in the coming months.

Matthew Freedman already researched and laid out all you need to know about Roger Lewis, from his off-the-field concerns to his outstanding raw production. Lewis ran a 4.57-forty at the combine at 201 pounds, and is the WR18 in NFL Draft Scout’s rankings, projected to go in the fourth or fifth round. Lewis’ 1,500-plus yards receiving shockingly only accounted for 30 percent of Bowling Green’s high-powered passing attack, but are impressive nonetheless. Lewis is a receiver you can likely grab in the later rounds of rookie dynasty drafts this spring, and his production profile says he’ll be well worth the investment.

  1. Much appreciated, if so.  (back)
  2. Collegiate stats are from Sports-Reference.com. Some smaller-school prospects are missing from the website’s database, and could be missing from this analysis.  (back)
  3. 4.50-second 40-yard dash, 35.5-inch vertical and 120-inch broad jump, all at 211 pounds.  (back)
  4. Pun intended  (back)
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