On January 2, the undefeated Western Michigan Broncos will take on the Wisconsin Badgers (10-3) in the Cotton Bowl: a classic battle between a small school and a traditional power. In addition to the David versus Goliath atmosphere between these two programs, this game will give us a chance to see the best wide receiver in the 2017 draft class on the national stage. I am speaking, of course, about Corey Davis.
While I’m obviously quite bullish on Davis, you’ll see that the 6 foot 3 inch, 213 pound WR is incredibly accomplished. While he has done this against mostly MAC competition, his career has been nonetheless impressive.
Davis has had a remarkable career, already owning the record for most receiving yards in college football history. That on it’s own would not be particularly special from a box score scouting perspective, but if you look at his year by year and overall numbers based on market share, you can see just how good Davis has been.
Davis’ numbers are nothing short of remarkable. He has at least a 38 percent market share of receiving yards in each of his four seasons at WMU, and a career Dominator Rating of 0.46. He also broke out as a freshman (about 19 years old at year’s end). We know that the earlier the breakout the better, and an early breakout for Davis is particularly helpful since he stayed in college all four seasons.
Potentially even more impressive is the fact that Davis averaged over 100 yards and a touchdown for his career. Since 2000, a WR has averaged 100 yards and a touchdown over the course of a season just 36 times (not including 2017 draft eligible players and later) in division one football. 10 of those seasons were by players who were first round picks, and 17 of them (47 percent) by players taken in the first two rounds. When we consider that Davis did it for his entire career, and boasts elite market share numbers, he seems like a slam dunk as a first round pick.
Forecasting NFL Success
Even without the NFL Combine, we should be able to project Davis as an NFL player. Why? Because production is the main thing that matters for WR prospects. Let’s take a look at the regression tree Kevin Cole put together last season on this topic.
As you can see, Davis smashes the first threshold with his 0.41 career market share of receiving yardage. In fact, he ends up in the best leaf of the tree thanks to his final year market share above 0.42. That leaf has yielded a 61 percent historical hit rate, which Kevin defined as a top 24 PPR season within a player’s first three years.
Of course, had Davis left as a junior, he would have fallen into the worst leaf on the right side of the tree, with a 0.38 market share of yards, and a yards per reception of 15.96, just below the threshold of 16. Does this mean that I would have thought any less of him a year ago? Absolutely not. I think this just highlights just how close some of these outcomes are when we start adding in additional filters.1 The career market share is undoubtedly the most important thing to me, especially when it is matched with prolific raw production.
Stacking Up With Recent History
Let’s take a look at how Davis’ numbers compare with recent draft prospects. Here are the numbers for every first round WR taken since 2014.
You can see that Davis pretty easily has the highest career market share of receiving yards, and would be just the third such first round pick since 2014 to reach the 0.30 mark. The other two, Sammy Watkins and Amari Cooper, have already had top 24 PPR seasons.2
In the five statistical categories listed, Davis would rank first, eighth, third, third, and first going from left to right. Of course, we need to take that in the context of playing against weaker competition, but it would seem that he stacks up extremely well with the recent first round WRs. Based on the numbers, he looks more like a pick in the top half of the first round than the bottom.
Power Five Competition
Davis has spent most of his time playing against weaker competition in the MAC, but he has still faced some Power Five opponents during his career. Here is how he has stacked up against the big boys.
A few notes on Davis’ production against the Power Five:
- Davis played half of these games as a freshman, and none of them as a senior3.
- His 0.35 career market share of receiving yards against the Power Five is still better than the career market share of receiving yards of every first round WR since 2014.
- He went over 90 yards with a TD in both meeting with Michigan State, who finished top six in both seasons they met, and top 20 in points allowed per game.
- The first meeting with MSU was Davis’ first career collegiate game, and he was facing off against Darqueze Dennard, who was more than three years older than Davis, and was taken in the first round by the Bengals at the conclusion of the season.
The great Jon Moore identified Davis as the WR Wunderkind back in 2014, and he hasn’t disappointed since. His outstanding production over four seasons, including against some Power Five competition, has warranted consideration in the top half of the first round of the NFL Draft. For me, he is probably the top incoming rookie WR on my board, and potentially my top player overall. Watch him perform against an elite program like Wisconsin, then just dream about all that he could do for your fantasy teams in the NFL.
- He also may have been playing that 2015 season hurt. (back)
- Watkins was WR20 last season in just 12 games. Cooper was WR21 as a rookie, and currently sits as the WR14 this season with one game left to play. (back)
- Note: It occurred to me after I wrote this piece that the Sports Reference career game logs had not yet updated to include 2016. His total career against the Power Five is included in this footnote, and is actually even better than the original.
Year Opponent Rec Yds TD MSRECYD MSRECTD Team YD Team TD 2013 Michigan State 8 96 1 0.5 0.5 192 2 2013 Northwestern 5 112 1 0.55 0.5 204 2 2013 Iowa 2 11 0 0.08 N/A 138 0 2014 Purdue 4 46 1 0.19 0.5 242 2 2015 Michigan State 10 154 1 0.42 0.5 367 2 2015 Ohio State 6 42 0 0.25 0 168 0 2016 Northwestern 7 70 0 0.32 0 218 1 2016 Illinois 4 97 0 0.65 N/A 150 0 2016 Wisconsin 6 73 1 0.46 1 157 1 Total 9 Games 52 701 5 0.38 0.50 1835 10