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2017 Draft: The Junior Wide Receivers Are Better Than Advertised

Since we began working on wide receivers with the birth of RotoViz in 2013, we’ve written hundreds of articles on the position. Most of them arrive at the same conclusion: Understanding age-adjusted market share production allows you to hack the NFL’s evaluation process and get tremendous bargains at the position.

This was the message of Jon Moore’s Phenom Index, Kevin Cole’s regression tree, and RotoDoc’s rookie WR model. That’s the message you get when you experiment with the Box Score Scout, and it informed the research that led to my selection of Stefon Diggs as last year’s breakout star.

While many WR prospects are exactly as billed, this was the insight that caused us to avoid players like Cordarelle Patterson and Laquon Treadwell, while buying heavily on DeAndre Hopkins and Allen Robinson.

Improvements in 2017

This offseason RotoDoc and Josh Hermsmeyer will be working to build a WR model that employs many of the same techniques that RotoDoc used to create his veteran WR machine-learning model. The new model will likely allow us to group receivers into like clusters and improve the accuracy of their NFL projections. Based on the wealth of previous research, we’re confident that early college dominance, final market share yardage, whether a receiver declares early, and draft position are the most important metrics for projecting NFL performance. In addition, touchdown production, yards per reception, rushing usage, size, and athleticism are all likely candidates to end up in the machine-learning model, with post-NFL Draft updates likely to include opportunity and QB quality.

Before we get to that point, it’s helpful to build a solid foundation. In this series, I’ll present the raw and market share production of the 2017 prospects in an apples-to-apples format. Each experience sub-group will get their own article.1

Although it doesn’t always save the best for last, I’ll work in reverse order of expected drafted slot.2

* Market share yards (msYD) and market share TDs (msTD) represent the percentage of the team’s receiving yardage/touchdowns accounted for by the prospect. Games missed due to injury are removed. Games without a catch due to coach’s decision are included.3

* Recruit rankings are from 247 Sports unless otherwise stipulated.  

* Heights and weights are approximate and taken from their college listings. We’ll find out how accurate these are during the combine.

* Age, when available, is taken from the Rookie Age Database and represents final college age.4 

Jerome Lane, Akron, 6-3, 220, 20.8

Lane was featured in my 3 Sleeper Prospects article. He’s a big-bodied receiver who transitioned from linebacker after his freshman year.

Year Games Catches Yards YPC TDs msYD msTD
2015 12 39 782 20.1 8 0.31 0.44
2016 12 62 1018 16.4 6 0.33 0.24
Career 101 1800 17.8 14 0.32 0.33

Lane’s numbers put him in the elite prospect category, but he’ll face plenty of skepticism about polish and the quality of competition. His fantasy future will be much more heavily dependent on draft slot than for more established prospects.

Josh Malone, Tennessee, 6-3, 200

Malone was the No. 5 receiver recruit in the 2014 class according to 247 Sports. He vanished for two seasons before emerging in 2016.

Year Games Receptions Yards YPC TD msYD msTD
2014 9 23 231 10 1 0.08 0.04
2015 10 31 405 13.1 2 0.16 0.12
2016 13 50 972 19.4 11 0.31 0.39
Career 104 1608 15.5 14 0.19 0.20

While Malone’s career numbers may keep him in the fringe prospect category, his 2016 market share numbers are better than many higher profile players. Averaging 19.4 yards per reception and scoring 11 TDs in a struggling offense, he eclipsed the benchmarks you want to see in terms of final season production.

As we continue, you’ll notice how many players did not hit these levels in 2016.

Travis Rudolph, Florida State, 6-1, 192, 21.3

Rudolph was the No. 6 receiver recruit in the 2014 class according to 247 Sports. He was solid but unspectacular as a Seminole.

Year Games Receptions Yards YPC TD msYD msTD
2014 10 38 555 14.6 4 0.13 0.15
2015 13 59 916 15.5 7 0.28 0.32
2016 13 56 840 15 7 0.24 0.30
Career 153 2311 15.1 18 0.21 0.25

Rudolph reached a 30 percent combined market share as a sophomore, which is usually an excellent sign for a highly-ranked prospect having a secondary breakout. Unfortunately, he took a step back in 2016 and has unimpressive career numbers.

Malachi Dupre, LSU, 6-3, 190, 21.2

Dupre was the No. 2 receiver recruit from the 2014 class. The LSU product never even reached 700 yards receiving and topped out with six touchdowns.

Year Games Receptions Yards YPC TD msYD msTD
2014 8 14 318 22.7 5 0.15 0.29
2015 12 43 698 16.2 6 0.32 0.46
2016 11 41 593 14.5 3 0.26 0.25
Career 98 1609 16.4 14 0.25 0.33

While Dupre’s college career was hijacked by LSU’s incompetent passing offense, he’s also a huge beneficiary of the market share adjustment in this analysis. His 2015 campaign suddenly looks pretty salty, and his career 16.4 yards per catch is encouraging. Dupre finished with a career msYD of 0.25, which is below the level of an elite prospect but very much in the intriguing range.

Artavis Scott, Clemson, 5-10, 190, 22.2

Scott entered college as the No. 8 WR recruit in the 2014 class. He authored one of the more impressive freshman seasons in recent memory, but his production collapsed over the next two years. Can we blame Clemson’s incredible depth for the slide? I looked deeper into this issue before the national title game.

Year G Rec Yds Avg TD msYD msTD
2014 12 76 965 12.7 8 0.29 0.35
2015 15 93 901 9.7 6 0.21 0.17
2016 15 76 614 8.1 5 0.12 0.11
Career 245 2480 10.1 19 0.20 0.19

Chris Godwin, Penn State, 6-1, 205, 20.8

Godwin got a big boost by finishing his career with 9-187-2 line in a Rose Bowl loss to Southern California. The No. 25 receiver recruit from 2014 blew up as a sophomore with almost 40 percent of the yards thrown by the much-maligned Christian Hackenberg.

Year G Rec Yds Avg TD msYD msTD
2014 13 26 338 13 2 0.11 0.15
2015 13 69 1101 16 5 0.39 0.25
2016 13 59 982 16.6 11 0.27 0.38
Career 154 2421 15.7 18 0.26 0.29

Godwin’s career numbers are just outside the elite prospect range, but his 2015 yardage and 2016 scoring paint the picture of a player with plenty of upside in the right NFL environment.

K.D. Cannon, Baylor, 6-0, 180, 21.2

The No. 4 receiver prospect in 2014, Cannon immediately found his place in the Baylor juggernaut, notching 1,030 yards and 8 TDs as a freshman. Like Godwin, his 14-catch, 226-yard, 2-TD final game should help launch him into the draft process.

Year Games Receptions Yards YPC TD msYD msTD
2014 13 58 1030 17.8 8 0.22 0.21
2015 13 50 868 17.4 6 0.23 0.14
2016 12 87 1215 14 13 0.33 0.39
Career 195 3113 16 27 0.26 0.23

Cannon took a step back in 2015 as Corey Coleman stole the show, but he rediscovered the limelight this season, logging a mid-30s Dominator Rating even as he was slowed by a groin injury and Baylor’s full-program meltdown.

Isaiah Ford, Virginia Tech, 6-2, 195, 20.8

Ford wasn’t quite as lauded a prospect coming in at No. 53 by 247 Sports, but that didn’t stop him from getting off to a very fast start.

Year Games Receptions Yards YPC TD msYD msTD
2014 13 56 709 12.7 6 0.25 0.32
2015 13 75 1164 15.5 11 0.40 0.46
2016 13 79 1094 13.8 7 0.30 0.23
Career 210 2967 14.1 24 0.32 0.32

Ford built on an excellent freshman season with a 0.43 Dominator Rating as a sophomore. Although his stats dropped off a little in 2016, his career numbers remain at the elite level. A likely second round pick in 2017 rookie drafts, Ford should be a priority target for the evidence-based crowd.

2017 Draft Prospect Preview: Isaiah Ford

JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC, 6-2, 220, 20.1

Smith-Schuster entered the collegiate ranks with the “ATH” label and was listed as 247’s No. 20 overall prospect (which would have put him just below Dupre at WR).

Year Games Receptions Yards YPC TD msYD msTD
2014 13 54 724 13.4 5 0.19 0.13
2015 14 89 1454 16.3 10 0.39 0.33
2016 13 70 914 13.1 10 0.25 0.30
Career 213 3092 14.5 25 0.28 0.25

Running opposite Nelson Agholor, he got off to a fast start as a freshman, at least in terms of raw numbers. He truly emerged in Agholor’s absence, going for 1,454 yards and almost a 40 percent yardage share in 2015. Smith-Schuster saw his star dim considerably as a junior. USC’s struggles before switching to Sam Darnold at QB and Smith-Schuster’s own back problems later in the season conspired to limit his numbers. His overall resume remains strong.

2017 Draft Prospect Preview: JuJu Smith-Schuster

The Numbers

PlayerBest msYDFinal msYDCareer msYD

Redshirt Junior Wide Receivers: Under-the-Radar Prospects Threaten the 2 Stars
Senior Wide Receivers: The Best Big WR and the Best Small WR in the Class?
Redshirt Senior Wide Receivers: Overrated Big Names Clash with the Super Sleepers

You can find all of the 2016 results in the 2017 FBS Market Share Database.

  1. Junior, redshirt junior, senior, redshirt senior.  (back)
  2. Media scouts do not agree on all prospects. This is an approximation. We’ll continue to provide updates to the Scouting Index throughout the spring.  (back)
  3. Occasionally these can be difficult to differentiate. An effort has been made to represent these accurately. Please let me know if you see an error.  (back)
  4. December 31, 2016  (back)

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