Monday, May 6, 2013

Ravens' History of Wide Receivers

I probably shouldn't say what I am about to say, since it could come off as a bit mean spirited.  Unfortunately, I just can't help myself.  Eric DeCosta was recently interviewed about the the team's approach towards drafting wide receivers.  In specific, he was asked what they have learned from their apparent success with the Torrey Smith pick, and this is what he said:

“Torrey Smith, in my mind, what makes him special is his personality, his makeup, his work ethic, his demeanor, his drive.”  - Eric DeCosta, a well intentioned, but misguided individual

You can read the whole thing here, though you may want to shoot yourself in the head afterwards.  Now, DeCosta seems like a good guy, and he and Ozzie have done many clever things over the years.  For this reason alone, I am going to pretend that he is just saying this nonsense because it is the sort of stuff many fans seem to eat up.  It feels good to think of Torrey as being a hard worker who has busted his ass every step of the way to get where he is.  It might even be true that he is a very determined guy, who brings his lunch pail to work (please shoot me now), but I really don't care.

If the team really believes this sort of stuff, then we are probably screwed.  In all likelihood, they probably do believe it.  It might very well explain their 16.66% success rate at drafting wide receivers.  If they really think that Torrey turned out well because of his grit and moxie, and not because he just happens to be a freak athlete, with a history of good college production, then they are quite possibly insane.

For the sake of simplicity, let's look at the Ravens' selections, from 2004 to 2012, through the eyes of my somewhat merciless computer.  We will be using the same simple method I used here.  That link will also show you a how a fairly wide array of well known receivers scored, to provide some context for what follows.  Every draft pick will be scored according to how many standard deviations above, or below, average they were in terms of adjusted statistical college production.  Similarly they will be graded by how many standard deviations they are above, or below, average athletically.  Since I use two different scales to score receivers, depending on their size, I will specify in the combined score which scale was used.  I'll list the players in reverse chronological order.

Player                    Pick #             Stat Score        Athletic Score       Combined Score
Tommy Streeter    236, in 2012        -0.520               0.378                     0.018 (Big)
Tandon Doss        123, in 2011          0.197              -0.546                    -0.174 (Small)
Torrey Smith          58, in 2011         0.637                0.648                     0.643(Small)
David Reed          156, in 2010          -0.111              -0.499                    -0.305(Small)
Justin Harper        215, in 2008         -0.671              -0.078                    -0.315(Big)
Marcus Smith       106, in 2008          0.511                0.024                     0.219(Big)
Yamon Figurs         74, in 2007         -1.164              -0.809                    -0.986(Small)
Demetrius Williams 111,in 2006           N/A                  N/A                         N/A
Mark Clayton          22, in 2005        0.400               -0.037                     0.181(Small)
Derek Abney         244, in 2004          N/A               -0.959                        N/A
Clarence Moore    199, in 2004        0.511               -0.348                     0.011(Big)
Devard Darling        82, in 2004       -0.095                0.629                     0.339(Big)

Out of 12 receivers selected, only four had scores that could be described as average or better, in both categories simultaneously.  These players are Torrey Smith, Marcus Smith, Mark Clayton, and Devard Darling.  Of these four who met the computer's minimal standards, 50% (Mark Clayton and Torrey Smith) managed to become at least average (Clayton's athletic score is only a fart's breadth below average).  Torrey's scores obviously crushed everyone else by a good margin.  So, when a player has at least some measure of decent athletic ability, and a collegiate history of production, things have worked out okay for the Ravens.  If we take Eric DeCosta's comments seriously, then the others simply failed because they didn't try hard enough, and not because they were just sub-par prospects to begin with.

We can even look at some "what if" scenarios, to see where the team might have misjudged value.  When Mark Clayton was selected with the 22nd pick, the team could have had Roddy White (1.171 stat score, 0.659 athletic score, 0.885 combined) taken with the 27th pick.  Or, in the same draft, Vincent Jackson (1.914 stat score, 2.089 athletic score, 2.019 combined) taken with the 61st pick.  Instead of Devard Darling, they could have drafted Jerricho Cotchery (0.806 stat score, 0.443 athletic score, 0.588 combine) who was taken with 108th pick.  The possibilities are endless, and probably somewhat pointless to contemplate.

An argument could be made that some of the other players that the Ravens drafted would have become productive if the team had employed better quarterbacks.  This opens a whole other can of worms, and second guessing.  For now, I would prefer to leave that issue alone.

There is one player who should never be left unmentioned in a discussion such as this one.  He is a player who tormented us all for years with his mediocrity, yet was the highest drafted receiver the Ravens ever selected.  In retrospect, it  seems obvious why he failed.

Player                Pick #          Stat Score         Athletic Score           Combined Score
Travis Taylor  10, in 2000         -0.588                 -0.185*                       -0.383  

*Based on using the average short shuttle time, since that piece of data was missing.


  1. You do realize he just looked for a good work ethic? That was just part of the reason he drafted torrey.... the rest was most likely his atheltic upside,draft value,homegrown kid,solid prouduction in college...,excellent returner....,good hands,decent route running, those were probaly some of the traits that led him to being drafted by the ravens....

    1. It's probably true that Torrey's character/work ethic were significant factors. I think Ozzie places a lot of stock in that. Perhaps too much at times.