The NFL Combine gets under way later this week, which means we’re officially in the thick of prospect season. As such, I’ve been invited back to write another edition of the Phenom Index, which has been posted at RotoViz every year since 2014.
What is the Phenom Index?
In the same way that #TeamRotoViz uses various metrics that contextualize a player’s performance,1 the Phenom Index is my way of incorporating a player’s age into their evaluation.
Why is this important? Consider that among the 2017 wide receiver class, the youngest prospect is 20.1 and the oldest is 25.3. Don’t you think five years — or even two years — is worth accounting for? Case in point, Eastern Washington receiver Cooper Kupp is two months OLDER than 2014 draftees Mike Evans and Allen Robinson. Yes, really.
To be clear, being an older prospect doesn’t mean you can’t be good, it just means the expectations are different; Keyshawn Johnson and Marvin Harrison are great examples of this.
Also, for everyone thinking “yea, but these guys are only going to be in the league for a few years. Who cares how old they are?” The point here has nothing to do with career longevity. The matter at hand is figuring out how talented a player actually is. A 20 year old dominating defensive backs who are 21 or 22 is much more impressive than a 23 or 24 year old doing the same.
The Phenom Index is calculated by looking at player’s age and their final season market share of receiving yards and bolting them together using z-scores. Typically, I like to think about this as a filter for finding young, talented players who could emerge to be among the game’s best within three seasons. There’s no magic threshold for being an NFL success, but the average Phenom score of the top 12 fantasy receivers in the NFL last year was 1.98. Two years ago the average was 2.47. It’s incredibly rare for a player to have a score below zero and turn into a premier fantasy option. Here is a look at how the Phenom Index related to 2016’s top fantasy receivers, with the 2015 stats in parenthesis.
- Lowest PI score in cohort of top 12 receivers: 0.27 Michael Thomas2 (0.31 – Doug Baldwin)
- Median PI score in cohort of top 12 receivers: 1.95 (2.20)
- Average PI score in cohort of top 12 receivers: 1.98 (2.47)
- Highest PI score in cohort of top 12 receivers: 3.98 – Amari Cooper (4.44 – Allen Robinson)
Phenom Index scores for 2017 wide receiver prospects
I’ve sorted the table to display the top 20 scores for the 2017 class, but there are nearly 130 total scores included below for you to explore. Also, because combine invites seem to matter, I’ve indicated that. If you want to check out historical scores, there were nearly 800 published in the 2015 edition of this article and 130+ in the 2016 edition. 3
|WR||Draft||College||Combine?||msYDS||MSyd Z||Age||Age Z||PHENOM|
|Curtis Samuel||2017||Ohio State||YES||31.1||0.576||20.4||-2.338||2.914|
|Zay Jones||2017||East Carolina||YES||43.5||1.724||21.8||-0.829||2.553|
|Noel Thomas, Jr.||2017||Connecticut||YES||48.7||2.205||22.3||-0.235||2.44|
|Jalen Robinette||2017||Air Force||YES||55.4||2.826||22.9||0.421||2.405|
|Isaiah Ford||2017||Virginia Tech||YES||30.5||0.52||20.9||-1.778||2.298|
|Corey Davis||2017||W. Michigan||YES||42.5||1.631||22||-0.583||2.214|
|Chris Godwin||2017||Penn State||YES||28.1||0.298||20.8||-1.833||2.131|
|Taywan Taylor||2017||W. Kentucky||YES||36.7||1.094||21.8||-0.74||1.834|
|Fred Ross||2017||Mississippi State||YES||34||0.844||21.6||-0.977||1.821|
|Lance Lenoir||2017||Western Illinois||36.9||1.115||21.9||-0.669||1.784|
|Robert Davis||2017||Georgia State||YES||32.8||0.733||21.7||-0.833||1.565|
|Travis Rudolph||2017||Florida State||YES||24.5||-0.036||21.3||-1.334||1.299|
|Josh Reynolds||2017||Texas A&M||YES||31.3||0.594||21.9||-0.691||1.285|
|Anthony Warrum||2017||Illinois State||37.6||1.176||22.5||-0.026||1.202|
|Thomas Sperbeck||2017||Boise State||33.6||0.807||22.2||-0.334||1.141|
|Carlos Henderson||2017||Louisiana Tech||YES||31.4||0.603||22||-0.515||1.119|
|Zach Pascal||2017||Old Dominion||YES||31.1||0.576||22||-0.512||1.088|
|Torii Hunter Jr.||2017||Notre Dame||24.5||-0.036||21.6||-1.033||0.997|
|Kenny Golladay||2017||Northern Illinois||YES||43||1.678||23.2||0.735||0.943|
|Victor Bolden Jr.||2017||Oregon State||YES||26||0.103||21.7||-0.839||0.942|
|Jonnu Smith||2017||Florida International||20.2||-0.434||21.4||-1.264||0.83|
|Kendrick Bourne||2017||Eastern Washington||YES||20.6||-0.396||21.4||-1.208||0.812|
|Trent Taylor||2017||Louisiana Tech||YES||35.4||0.974||22.7||0.187||0.787|
|Ryan Switzer||2017||North Carolina||YES||29.2||0.4||22.2||-0.377||0.776|
|Noah Brown||2017||Ohio State||YES||14.9||-0.925||21||-1.676||0.752|
|Rodney Adams||2017||South Florida||YES||27.9||0.279||22.3||-0.226||0.505|
|Aaron Peck||2017||Fresno State||26.8||0.177||22.2||-0.3||0.477|
|Daikiel Shorts Jr.||2017||West Virginia||26.7||0.168||22.2||-0.291||0.459|
|Speedy Noil||2017||Texas A&M||YES||14||-1.008||21.2||-1.424||0.416|
|Dameon Gamblin||2017||New Mexico||20||-0.452||21.8||-0.78||0.328|
|R.J. Shelton||2017||Michigan State||30.2||0.492||22.7||0.171||0.321|
|Jimmy Williams||2017||East Carolina||20.4||-0.415||21.9||-0.715||0.3|
|Bug Howard||2017||North Carolina||YES||22.9||-0.184||22.1||-0.451||0.267|
|Jesus Wilson||2017||Florida State||YES||20.5||-0.406||21.9||-0.626||0.22|
|KeVonn Mabon||2017||Ball State||35.3||0.964||23.2||0.83||0.134|
|Shelton Gibson||2017||West Virginia||YES||28.4||0.325||22.8||0.313||0.012|
|Gerald Everett||2017||South Alabama||24.5||-0.036||22.5||0.021||-0.056|
|Deante Burton||2017||Kansas State||21.8||-0.286||22.5||-0.032||-0.254|
|Aregeros Turner||2017||Northern Illinois||15.4||-0.878||22||-0.58||-0.298|
|Ricky Seals-Jones||2017||Texas A&M||YES||12.8||-1.119||21.8||-0.78||-0.339|
|Tim Crawley||2017||San Jose State||24.3||-0.054||22.8||0.341||-0.395|
|Cooper Kupp||2017||Eastern Washington||YES||33.1||0.759||23.5||1.16||-0.401|
|Gabe Marks||2017||Washington State||YES||19||-0.545||22.4||-0.106||-0.439|
|Dontre Wilson||2017||Ohio State||13.7||-1.036||22||-0.558||-0.477|
|Michael Henry||2017||Western Michigan||22||-0.267||22.7||0.211||-0.479|
|Stacy Coley||2017||Miami (Florida)||YES||21.2||-0.341||22.6||0.15||-0.491|
|BJ Johnson III||2017||Georgia Southern||34.6||0.9||23.9||1.508||-0.608|
|Montay Crockett||2017||Georgia Southern||19.8||-0.471||23.1||0.618||-1.089|
|Chris Lewis||2017||South Alabama||20.8||-0.378||23.5||1.086||-1.464|
|Greg Ward Jr.||2017||Houston||YES||-3.6||-2.638||21.5||-1.14||-1.497|
|Jhajuan Seales||2017||Oklahoma State||15.4||-0.878||23.1||0.664||-1.543|
|Shaq Hill||2017||Eastern Washington||20.6||-0.396||23.7||1.292||-1.688|
|Mack Hollins||2017||North Carolina||YES||14.7||-0.943||23.3||0.88||-1.823|
|Kermit Whitfield||2017||Florida State||YES||11.5||-1.24||23.2||0.812||-2.052|
|Rokeem Williams||2017||Miami (Ohio)||22.8||-0.193||24.2||1.878||-2.071|
|Josh Magee||2017||South Alabama||30||0.474||25.3||3.051||-2.577|
There’s a lot of meat to pull of this bone, but I’ll offer a few quick thoughts here. Hopefully some of the other writers can link back on follow up pieces.
Curtis Samuel, Ohio State – The highest Phenom Index score of the 2017 class goes to a guy who also managed 700 rushing yards in his final season. The last player to surpass 700 receiving and 700 rushing in a season was Percy Harvin in 2007.4 As you may remember, Samuel and Harvin both played under Urban Meyer, who has an excellent track record of putting skill position players into the NFL. The other thing to like about Samuel is that he’s got some special teams experience. Overall, he looks like a fantastic multi-faceted threat for today’s NFL.
Krishawn Hogan, Marian – I’d never heard of Hogan until I looked at the NFL combine invite list, but I instantly became fascinated after digging deeper. Listed at 6 feet 4 inches tall and 215 pounds, Hogan amassed 42 receiving touchdowns in three years and 25 RUSHING touchdowns. Get to know him better on this episode of RotoViz Radio.
Corey Davis, Western Michigan – Like a mad scientist muttering to himself in his lab, I penned my Corey Davis love letter in 2014 before the vast majority had a reason to care. Corey Davis has been destined for greatness for some time now. Had he declared for last year’s draft, he would have had the third-highest score, but instead comes in No. 11 in this class. Either way, I am sky high on what he could become.
Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington – In a vacuum, Cooper Kupp’s score looks terrible, especially for someone that could be selected on Day 2. That said, even though Kupp was 23 in his final college season, he’s kicked ass since his age 20 freshman season, and he has some serious special teams juju. This methodology hates Kupp’s chances for NFL success, but I’m taking a wait-and-see approach.
Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma – Westbrook had a remarkable season in 2016 to be sure, but for someone who is going to be a 24-year-old rookie who weighs around 170 pounds, he better be exceptionally athletic. Otherwise, I’d be scared of spending a Day 2 pick on him when there are a number of other cheaper, bigger, more promising prospects available.
Mike Williams, Clemson – Like Kupp, Williams is another player who requires some deeper inquiry. In a vacuum his 2016 score looks underwhelming for someone who could be the first receiver taken. However, if you go back to his 2014 campaign at age 20((he played in one game in 2015 before suffering a neck injury)0, you’ll see a 20 year old who accounted for 33 percent of Clemson’s receiving yards, which would translate to one of the best Phenom scores in this class. Shawn Siegele has written before about how breakout season might be more important than final season, which may be the case with Williams.
In closing, I know it might seem like I’m contradicting myself with some of the comments in the Disappointing section, but probably the most important thing to remember about the Phenom Index is that it’s far from a silver bullet. It’s merely a value screen that will guide you to outstanding young talent. However, it’s important in cases like Kupp and Williams to remember that even “old, underwhelming talent” might have once been young and outstanding too. Ultimately, much more work is required on all of these players and I encourage you to reach your own conclusions.
- i.e. market share, which adjusts for quality of offense (back)
- Michael Thomas’ birth year has been a point of contention for many people for a long time — Mike himself even responded to me then quickly deleted it — but this number is based on the birth year provided by NFL.com and this score reflects a different number than what appears in last year’s article since I mistakenly updated it to reflect his false 1994 birth year. (back)
- with every passing year, a player’s score is liable to change ever so slightly. This is because I update the averages and standard deviations used to create z-scores with the addition of every new draft class (back)
- Per Sports Reference. (back)