Hello everyone! Its spring break for me here, and I decided to throw together a piece on this years rookie WR class. I realize that we most likely won't be in play for any of the top receivers come draft time, but there are still a couple of reasons I wanted to write this article. First, its important to break down positional groups regardless of where we might be looking to aquire talent, because you never know who may fall in the draft or where a sleeper might be lurking. Most teams ignored Keenan Allen last year because he had a slow 40 time due to a knee injury. I read somewhere that the slow time was expected due to the recovery time of the injury, and yet his was ignored by 31 other teams for over 2 rounds. Second, this class has, in my opinion, one of the deepest rosters of WRs we've seen in a few years. What is ironic is who scouts and draft personalities are pumping up at the top of the draft. I'll explain why I feel that is ironic a little later on.
What Should a Top WR Look Like?
I've alluded to this before in other posts about WRs (namely CP84) but to be a top WR in this league you have to be able to do it all. What do I mean by that? To put it simply, you need to be able to dominate between the 20's and in the red zone. And how exactly are WRs able to do that? Well, dominating between the 20's comes from being a crisp route runner, knowing how to exploit coverages, etc. Dominating in red zone is actually much more simple than people may imagine. Being a large WR is about the best atribute a player can have if he wants to be a dominant red zone threat. List after list after list, the top 20 TD producers are consistently large receivers or TEs. There will always be a few players who sneak into the top 20 who don't have protypical size, but they are consistently shown to be the exception rather than the rule. Its such a simple concept too. Larger receivers can use their bulk to shield defenders off the ball, beat the press easier, etc. They also generally have longer wingspans, which lets them high point a fade pass easier. In short, when it comes to the red zone, the bigger the better. Couple size with the aforementioned between the 20s skills, and you have a complete, dominant WR. So what does this have to do with the 2014 WR class? I'm glad you asked, lets get to it!
This Years WR Class
I've talked before about the concept of market share for receiving yards and TDs. Its their percentage of the teams total yards and touchdowns. So if a player had 1000 yards receiving and his team had a total of 4000 passing yards, his market share would be 1000/4000, or 25%. Same concept for TDs. To simplify things, I'm going to average the two market shares and call that a players Dominator Rating. All of these concepts have been developed and used to explain WR success coming out of college by the excellent writing staff at rotoviz.com.
Using a WRs dominator rating (or DR for short) as well as their physical attributes to rank them is a quick and easy way to show different receivers strengths leading up to the draft. Using those metrics to rank receivers also allows us to spot potentially underrated or overrated receivers. Now, I should mention that there recently has been a lot of work done on the importance of a college receivers "breakout age". Although I'm not going to go into a long explanation of it and use it heavily in this post, I will mention it for certain prospects whose breakout age makes them look better or worse than their DR may imply. Breakout age is just how old a college receiver was when they broke the 30% threshold for DR. I won't get into the detailed study done by Shawn Siegle (@FF_Contrarian) about breakout age, but suffice it to say that it is an incredibly accurate predictor of WR NFL success. With further ado, lets take a look at this years WR class. I'm going to list the prospects how they are ranked on walterfootball.com and then evaluate whether I think they are under or overvalued.
- Sammy Watkins
Final season DR .33 Breakout age 18
Height: 6'1" Weight: 211 lbs
Watkins has never really been an elite prospect in terms of DR (typically, elite falls around the .40 range and above) but he broke out incredibly early. He also has better than expected size (pre combine, he was listed in many places as 6'0" 205 lbs), but has been pretty bad in the redzone in college. He likely will be a star between the 20s in the NFL but struggle to eclipse double digit touchdowns consistently due to his lack of red zone skill. I don't think Watkins is a bad prospect, far from it, but I do feel he is being overrated as a player. His early breakout age suggests he will be successful in the NFL, I just have doubts that he will be as successful as some are claiming.
- Mike Evans
Final Season DR .30 Breakout age 20
Height 6'5" Weight 231 lbs
Evans is a curious case. He didn't have a true breakout until his final season, but he has fantastic size. His breakout age wasn't especially early nor was it especially late. With his size, red zone prowess (36% red zone TD rate both years in college) and solid speed for a player his size, Evans has the potential to be very good pro player. He's honestly somewhat hard to peg because his measureables are fantastic, but his DR isn't elite. Pre-combine I thought he was being fairly valued, but there is talk of him going inside the top 10 now, which I think is a bit higher than he deserves to go. Still, if things break right for Evans, he could end up the top WR from this class when all is said and done.
- Marqise Lee
Final Season DR* .42 Breakout age 20
Height 6'0" Weight 192 lbs
The asterik is to show that I'm using Lee's 2012 season, giving him the benefit of the doubt. He was injured for much of 2013, so I'm giving him a pass in order to paint him in the best possible light. I'm doing that because, quite frankly, even with his elite DR, I feel he is an overrated prospect. For a sub 200 lb WR, you really need to have a good 40 time. 4.52 isn't bad at all if you're 6'3" 220 lbs, but for as small as Lee is (relatively speaking) he really needed to run faster. I don't think he'll bust, and I do think he'll be a solid NFL player, but again I feel he is somewhat overrated coming out of college.
- Kelvin Benjamin
Final Season DR .295 Breakout age? 22-none
Height 6'5" Weight 240 lbs
I put his breakout age as a question mark, because if you round up from the thousands column, he hits the .30 threshold in his final season. Still, even with the benefit of rounding up for him, he didn't break out until 22. Without going into the details of breakout age study, a 22 year old breakout is incredibly late and a really bad sign for Benjamin. Couple that with his very low final season DR, and Benjamin screams overrated bust at the pro level.
- Odell Beckham Jr.
Final Season DR .35 Breakout age 21
Height 5'11" Weight 198 lbs
Another small, 'old' breakout WR. Many people seem to be high on him, but again I think he is overrated. NFL.com has him rated as a 1st-2nd round prospect. I think the first is way too early for him, but late 2nd, early third wouldn't be terrible. He'll likely never be an elite player, but the team that drafts him will likely get good value out of him. Very similar to Jarius Wright in fact. The difference is we drafted Wright in the 4th, while Beckham likely ends up drafted in the 2nd. In fact, Wright had a better final year DR then Beckham, but was older when he brokeout.
- Jarvis Landry
Final Season DR .40 Breakout age 20
Height 5'11" Weight 205 lbs
Pre-combine, Landry seemed like a much better prospect then post-combine. However, a 4.77 is rough. There is talk of injury to excuse his poor performance, and if he runs much better at his pro day, he will likely stabilize his draft position. Even having shared the field with Beckham, he had an elite DR. If he improves his 40 time, he'll be very intriguing for teams. Again, he lacks ideal size to be a truly elite receiver, but his elite DR shows that he could become a solid between the 20s NFL receiver.
- Davante Adams
Final season DR .42 Breakout age 20
Height 6'1" Weight 212 lbs
Adams looks like a very good, very underrated prospect. He weighed in over 210 lbs, has a truly elite final season DR, and didn't breakout late. It is also true that he didn't break out especially early, but he brokeout early enough to warrant serious consideration. Furthermore, he was an absolute monster in the red zone, with a 36% red zone touchdown rate. That becomes even more impressive when you realize how many red zone targets he received. That is important because the more times you repeat something, in general the lower your efficiency gets. The fact that he got 36 red zone targets in 2013 and still converted 36% into touchdowns is incredible. At this point, he compares favorably with a pre-injury riddled Hakeem Nicks, DeAndre Hopkins and Michael Crabtree. Pretty solid list of comps right there. He looks to be prospect who can be dominant between the 20s and inside the red zone. I'm very high on Adams.
- Brandin Cooks
Final Season DR .39 Breakout age 20
Height 5'10" Weight 189 lbs
Its really too bad that Cooks is such a small NFL receiver. With some more size, he would be an absolute nightmare for opposing NFL defenses to go up against. With that being said, with his blazing 40 time and outstanding production, Cooks could very well be this years T.Y. Hilton, i.e. smaller receiver who is able to overcome a size disadvantage to perform very well in the NFL. Even for a small guy, he had a red zone TD rate of 33% on 30 targets. Its intriguing to see such a small player perform well in the red zone. It should be noted, however, that the previous year he had a red zone TD rate of only 9%. So which is the real Cooks? Likely somewhere in between. Still, he looks to be a solid, potentially underrated prospect.
- Allen Robinson
Final Season DR .37 Breakout age 19
Height 6'2" Weight 220 lbs
And here we go! I find it incredible that Allen Robinson is the 9th rated WR prospect. He has a very high final season DR. Not quite in the truly elite .40 threshold, but very close. He brokeout at a young age, and has excellent size. Looks to have the potential to be a solid #1 WR at the pro level. His one red flag is a slow 40 time. For a guy his size, a 4.3 40 is definitely not required, but you would like to see faster than 4.6. If he is able to improve his timed 40 at his pro day to 4.55, he will solidify himself as a great prospect in my opinion. Incredbily underrated prospect.
- Jordan Matthews
Final Season DR .48 Breakout age 19
Height 6'3" Weight 212 lbs
Another incredibly underrated prospect. Like Robinson, he passes all the 'tests' with flying colors. Massive DR-well into the elite range. Brokeout at a young age. Great size. Very solid 40 time for his size. It is amazing that he is only the 10th best prospect on this list. The one knock on Matthews is that, despite his great size, his red zone TD rate was only 14%, down from 22% the year before. You'd really like to see that number higher, but besies that, his metrics are overwhelmingly positive. His draft position will likely dictate his future. If he is drafted inside the first 3 rounds (like he is projected to be) he has a chance, in my opinion, to be the best WR from this class. At this point, my love for Jordan Matthews isn't really rational anymore.
So that is my relatively brief writeup on the top 10 prospects from this years draft class. This is hardly the definitive guide to rookie WR scouting, but it points to the depth of this years WR class. When I see people saying we should draft someone like Watkins at the 8th pick (if he is even there) I have to wonder if we would get better value picking Matthews or Adams or Robinson in the 2nd round instead, assuming we are dead set on picking a WR. In reality, none of these players are likely to end up on the Vikings due to our needs at QB and LB. Still, one can dream. If we were to take a lower ranked prospect in the middle rounds, my money would be on Donte Moncrief. If you have anything to add about certain players, I'm happy to discuss them. Anyway, I've thrown up a poll so you guys can let me know what you think. Thanks for reading, and have a good weekend everyone!