Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Kangaroo Court: The 2014 Wide Receivers

This year's list of wide receiver prospects probably isn't going to be very interesting to most people.  Last year, the list of receivers that the computer thought were interesting differed rather greatly from the players that were actually taken highly.  This time, the computer is largely in agreement with the general consensus, at least for the most part.  Perhaps the only interesting thing about this years' list, is the fact that the computer seems to have largely identified most of the prospects who are projected to be taken in the first few rounds, without ever actually seeing them play.

Among the receivers who were taken in the first 2 rounds last year, only DeAndre Hopkins actually met the computer's standards for being a probable success.  Even here, I think the computer would have had some minor issues with taking Hopkins in the first round, but that is just quibbling over value at this point.  Still, except for Keenan Allen, for whom we didn't have the necessary data to make an evaluation, Hopkins has so far been the most productive receiver of the 2013 class.  The accomplishments of Tavon Austin and Cordarelle Patterson are still lagging a bit behind, and largely hanging on their production as punt/kick returners, which is outside of the scope of what we are really looking for here.

As for some of the other players that the computer liked, we are still waiting to see what will happen.  Since they tended to be later draft picks, it could take some time, and maybe their opportunity will never come.  Getting an opportunity obviously matters a lot.  Ryan Spadola, who was the definition of an oddball prospect (and one of the computer's highest ranked small receivers), is a perfect example.  In the 2013 preseason, he appears to have had the 2nd most receiving yards among all receivers (213 yards on 13 receptions), even including veterans.  The next closest rookie was 43 yards behind him.  Not bad for an undrafted kid from Lehigh University, though evidently not good enough for the Jets.  They cut him, after throwing one regular season pass to him in a rain storm (which he dropped), because they felt they were all set at the receiver position with Stephen Hill.  Don't ask me to explain what they were thinking, because I have no idea.  All I'm trying to say is that opportunities don't always come to the players that might deserve them.

Since I only got around to mentioning receivers after the draft had already happened last year, I didn't really discuss the prospects very much.  The time for that sort of thing had already passed.  This year will be different in some ways.

I should also mention that, since this is an ongoing process that I am trying to gradually improve, I have contemplated making some changes to how the computer looks at wide receiver prospects.  Most of the changes I want to eventually make will relate to the "Big' receivers, where I am contemplating making the Agility Score a stronger factor.  I've also been thinking about altering the way that the computer looks at the issue of speed, with more attention paid to the the 10-yard splits.  Still, these issues are still in the pipeline, and there's a bit of fiddling left to do.  For this year, the game will superficially remain the same as before, as will the scores for the players.

As we did last year, I will list every wide receiver prospect who managed to produce both a Stat Score and an Athletic Score, that was no worse than -0.100 standard deviations below average.  The receivers will be divided into two groups, one for players that are over 200# (the 'Big' receivers), and those who are under 210# (the 'Small' receivers).  For players who fit in both groups (players who are between 200 and 210 pounds), I'll test them in both groups to see where they might fit best.  For 'Small' receivers, the computer puts more of an emphasis on speed and agility when forming their Athletic Score, and their Stat Scores is more demanding of multiple seasons of solid statistical production.  For the 'Big' receivers, the computer places more of an emphasis on power (the dreaded Kangaroo Score), and their Stat Score is somewhat less demanding.  I'll also filter out any 'Big' receivers with 40-times below 4.60 seconds, as well as filtering out 'Small' receivers with 40-times below 4.50 seconds.

Big Receivers

NAME                   Stat Score            Athletic Score
Mike Evans 0.470 1.143
Donte Moncrief 0.019 1.532
Jeff Janis 1.897 1.014
Davante Adams 1.086 0.860
Jordan Matthews 1.444 0.239
Sammy Watkins 0.313 0.527
Allen Robinson 0.941 0.689
Cody Latimer 0.097 0.895

Small Receivers

NAME                   Stat Score            Athletic Score
Michael Campanaro 0.548 0.225
Brandin Cooks 1.165 0.323
Erik Lora 1.310 0.220
Albert Wilson 1.270 0.502
Odell Beckham 0.120 0.432
Marqise Lee 0.838 -0.005

Of course, these are just the players that the computer thinks have the best chance of becoming 'average' NFL receivers.  My definition of average is a player that can produce 35 receiving yards per game played over the course of their career (a modest 560 receiving yards over 16 games), so my standards are fairly low.  I wouldn't take the scores listed above too seriously, as they are really scores that are built upon many smaller scores, which frequently matter even more.  This is just how I start the 'weeding out' process, to determine which players I want to focus my attention on.  In reality, I always end up having to veto some of the computer's recommendations for various reasons, which I will try to describe as we go along.  Unfortunately, my own worthless and subjective opinion does come into play a bit more on these vetoes.

Because of the way that data slowly becomes available, I will continue to modify and adjust some of these results as new information becomes available.

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson  Ht: 6' 0.75"  Wt: 211
40 Time: 4.34  Kangaroo Score: 0.166  Agility Score: -0.515
I have to admit that I have paid almost zero attention to Sammy Watkins.  It's fairly obvious that he will be taken before Team Kangaroo is on the clock at pick #17, so it really isn't worth my time to dig into him as a prospect.  From what I can tell he seems to have reliable hands, and while his physical traits outside of his 40 time aren't mind blowing, they still manage to get him a passing grade.  While his results may not look stunning, I will say that there are some weird inconsistencies in his combine data that would allow for a slightly more positive view of him, as well as the possibility that he might fit better among the 'Small' receiver group, where his stats would be weighed a bit differently.  For instance, his time in the 3-cone drill was a fairly average -0.143 standard deviations below average.  His short shuttle, on the other hand, was a rather poor -0.886 standard deviations below average.  It's somewhat less common to see this kind of difference between the two results, and I suspect Watkins could have cleared up this discrepancy, one way or the other, at his pro day.  Unfortunately, he chose to stand on his combine numbers, leaving me to wonder if there is an actual reason for concern, or not.  There was also a similar issue with the results from his vertical jump and broad jump, where his vertical came out significantly lower than I normally would have expected based on his broad jump results.  Basically, his results are just all over the map.  Like I said though, I've paid very little attention to Watkins.  While I'm willing to accept that Watkins can be a good receiver, I can't confidently bet on him being the best receiver in this draft class.

Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M  Ht: 6' 4.75"  Wt: 231
40 Time: 4.47  Kangaroo Score: 1.408*  Agility Score: -0.550
I can understand why people are interested in Evans, and the power he brings to the table.  I'm just not convinced that this is enough on its own to guarantee success.  While people seem to keep trying to compare Evans to Vincent Jackson, the computer thinks he bears more of a similarity to Marques Colston and Reggie Williams.  While Colston, Williams, and Evans all had good Kangaroo Scores (in Evans case we only have his vertical jump to base this on), their overall athletic profiles are more like a moderately stiff and somewhat smaller tight end.  Even though I place less of an emphasis on agility for 'Big' receivers, when a player's results fall below -0.500, I do start to get a bit nervous.  While I like Colston, and the computer projected him as an interesting 2007 prospect, he is still a bit of an oddball.  I think Colston deserved to be selected higher than he was taken (7th round), but without the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I think there were good reasons why he really didn't belong in the first 2 rounds of the draft.  I think the chances that Evans can perform at Colston's level are rather slim, though I would still say that Evans should become at least an average receiver (faint praise).  Personally, Evans didn't make much of an impression on me, when I watched him play.  With Texas A&M's offense spreading people out, and having a scrambling QB to distract people, I think this probably did Evans some significant favors.  That their offensive line also appeared to be giving Manziel extra time to scan the field, and for Evans to eventually get open, also adds to my concerns.  His resume seems to consist of the occasional dominating performance, like at Alabama or Arkansas, and then long stretches of almost complete irrelevance.  Personally, I probably wouldn't take Evans before the 3rd round, as I'm just not convinced he will end up being the sort of terror that some people expect him to become.

Marqise Lee, WR, USC  Ht: 5' 11.75"  Wt: 192
40 Time: 4.44  Kangaroo Score: -0.113  Agility Score: 0.651
Athletically, there isn't necessarily anything wrong with Lee.  The problem is that he sort of skates along the line of mediocrity in several areas, more than I would like to see in a supposed 1st round prospect.  His 10-yard split of 1.56 seconds, in particular, is right where I would begin to fret (at least for a small receiver), if it was any lower.  I have to admit that my opinion of Lee has continued to tumble the more and more I have seen him play.  I'm just not sure that his hands are really worthy of 1st round pick.  While his statistical production is pretty good overall, his reputation still seems to revolve around his 2012 season, and whether you believe that this represented his actual normal level of play, or whether that season was the aberration.  Injuries might explain his drop in production in 2013, but they don't really explain the rate at which he was dropping passes.  I wouldn't want to have that question lingering in my head, if I were selecting him in the 1st round, so I would probably pass on him, unless he fell quite a bit in the draft.

Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon  Ht: 5' 9.75"  Wt: 189
40 Time: 4.30  Kangaroo Score: -0.759  Agility Score: 1.864
Imagine throwing a feather as hard as you could at Dan Snyder's head.  How much damage would it do?  That's sort of the situation we have with Brandin Cooks.  There just isn't enough power to really be intimidating.  Fortunately, he has the speed and agility to still provide a viable threat, though whether that is threatening enough to merit a 1st round pick is debatable.  Despite his somewhat more impressive bulk, the computer would still lump Cooks in with midget-class receivers such as T.Y. Hilton and DeSean Jackson, who also lack any real power.  I think there is a place for receivers like this, but drafting them in the 1st round would make me nervous, even though I think the odds of Cooks becoming a failure are somewhat slim.  It's just a question of whether his ceiling is high enough to justify such an investment.   His 2nd Gear Score of 0.20 also suggests that his deep speed is probably even more stunning than his already impressive 40-time might appear.  The computer does like Cooks a fair bit more than last year's Tavon Austin, though I would still probably view Cooks as just a luxury acquisition, for a team that already has other pieces in place.

Odell Beckham, WR, LSU  Ht: 5' 11.75"  Wt: 198
40 Time: 4.31  Kangaroo Score: 0.088  Agility Score: 1.565
I'm still not a fan of drafting smallish receivers in the 1st round, but I really can't find much about Beckham that is objectionable.  There was a bit of an issue with his 40-time at the combine, where his official result was a 4.43.  On his first run, he appears to have had a rather bad start with a 10-yard split of 1.59 seconds, and finished with a time of 4.40.  This result produces a 2nd Gear Score of 0.19, which does suggest that his deep speed is still quite impressive.  On his second run, he had an excellent 10-yard split of 1.50 seconds, and finished with a time of 4.31.  Again, his 2nd Gear score was 0.19.  However you look at these numbers, I think it is fair to say that Beckham isn't lacking deep speed.  While I would prefer to have seen stronger statistical production, he did manage to meet the computer's goofy standards, and I didn't see anything in his stats that would suggest a problem.  Personally, I thought he looked pretty good, and had above average hands.  I would say that the odds are pretty good that he will become an above average wide receiver, and he might be my favorite 'Small' receiver in this draft class..

Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State  Ht: 6' 2.5"  Wt: 207
40 Time: 4.48  Kangaroo Score: 1.370  Agility Score: 0.566
Getting an accurate account of Robinson's 40 time has been a bit ridiculous.  At the combine, where he weighed 220#, he had one run of 4.60 seconds, and another of 4.56 seconds.  That was moderately troubling, though his 10-yard splits were quite good.  Then, at his pro day, by which point he had dropped 13 pounds, he seems to have run a 4.48.  The problem is in how the computer looks at speed in relation to weight.  Regardless of any improvement in his 40 time, it is somewhat offset by his loss of mass.  Still, I like Robinson quite a lot.  He has power, agility and was highly productive.  His Agility Score would be even higher (1.695), if I used his pro day results, but for the time being, I am leaving that out.  His statistical production is even more impressive due to the degree to which his team heavily leaned on him as the primary force in their offense.  From what I can tell, he also seems to have rather excellent and reliable hands.  The fact that he is one of the younger WR prospects that will go near the top of the draft also carries some significant weight.  I do, however, think there is a fairly high likelihood that his ceiling might be capped a bit, and that he will become more of a possession receiver because of his lack of speed.  Despite this potential limitation, I'd be very interested in acquiring him.  The upside for Robinson might be similar to that of Mike "Not The Fat One" Williams, or Hakeem Nicks.  The downside might be something along the lines of Brandon Lafell.  While I'd probably be quite willing to pay a 2nd round pick for him, I'm not sure if the potential risks merit a 1st rounder, though it could be very tempting.  Either way, players who fit Robinson's athletic/statistical mold rarely fail, so he should be a relatively safe pick.

Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt  Ht: 6' 3"  Wt: 212
40 Time: 4.40  Kangaroo Score: 0.232  Agility Score: 0.051
Every single time I watch Matthews play, my opinion gets flipped around.  There's clearly no problem with his statistical production, where his results are stunning.  It's more of an issue with his physical traits.  The computer has generally had a hard time with these sorts of physically large receivers with just moderate lower body power (based on their Kangaroo Score).  Physically, the best comparisons I can give for someone like Matthews might be A.J. Green, Jordy Nelson, or Sidney Rice, who were also 'Big' receivers with mediocre Kangaroo Scores.  Of course, there are numerous others who haven't been quite as successful as those three, though most of them were unlikely to have Matthews production as a counterbalance.  Like Sidney Rice, I suspect there might be a somewhat higher risk of injury for Matthews, because of his somewhat lower score on the body mass index.  The computer actually sees Matthews as a 'Small' receiver in a 'Big' receivers body, if that makes any sense.  He seems to get by on speed and agility (his Agility Score may not look exceptional, but by 'Big' receiver standards it is pretty good), more so than by physically dominating his opponents the way most big receivers do.  Based on what I have seen of him, the computer's view of Matthews likely style of play seems to be a pretty good fit.  Some people have expressed minor doubts about his hands, though from what I could tell this wasn't a huge issue, and generally only became a concern on more tightly contested passes.  He wasn't pulling any Heyward-Bey types of drops.  It's when the computer looks at his speed relative to his weight, that Matthews seems to rise above the more common possession receivers and have some real down-the-field potential.  While I would generally prefer a more physically overpowering type of receiver, I have to admit that Matthews will probably become an above average receiver, and even has a good shot at ending up one of the best receivers in this draft class.

Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana  Ht: 6' 2.5"  Wt: 215
40 Time: 4.43  Kangaroo Score: 1.175  Agility Score:  ?
Latimer might be one of the biggest wildcards in 2014 draft.  When it comes to size, speed and power, everything checks out just fine.  Unfortunately, because of a foot injury, he never ran the short shuttle or 3-cone drill, so we'll never know his Agility Score.  Generally, I am suspicious of players who duck out on certain drills, while participating in others, since the player probably knows what their strengths and weaknesses are, and might be hiding something from us.  Though I put less emphasis on the Agility Score for 'Big' receivers, I do think results above, or below -0.500, would have a significant impact on projecting what Latimer may end up becoming, and have used that imaginary result to 'fill in the blanks' for Latimer, as I have a hard time imagining that he is any stiffer than Mike Evans.  This speculation brings me back to the Colston comparison that I brought up when discussing Mike Evans.  Personally, I found Latimer to be much more impressive than Evans, and probably a better heir to the Colston throne.  Latimer appeared to have better hands than Evans, be more physical, and have better speed.  Latimer also might be the best run blocking receiver that I have seen in this entire class.  His mediocre statistical production does cause me some concern, though his team appeared to lean on him just as much as Texas A&M leaned on Evans, in terms of the percentage of the teams total offense that they were each responsible for.  Indiana also didn't appear to be doing Latimer any favors, with the constant changing of the starting QBs.  He particularly seemed to struggle with Chase Coffman in 2012, who appeared to be a more conservative/incompetent QB.  When Sudfeld and Roberson came in, and were making more aggressive down-the-field passes, Latimer clearly did much better.  I suspect his struggles with Coffman might also point towards Latimer perhaps not having the sort of exceptional quickness and agility to dominate as a short range receiver, where these potentially missing traits might come into play more often.  It's just a hunch, and there isn't much I can do to confirm this.  On the other hand, as an intermediate-to-deep receiver, he might be one of the best prospects in this class.  If he is used as a go-up-and-get-it type of frisbee dog receiver, I think he would probably be excellent.  Unfortunately, the hype on Latimer is reaching the point where the risks might be starting to outweigh the rewards, and some people are even projecting that he could slip into the 1st round.  If he was available in the 3rd round, I would definitely take him.  In the 2nd round, I would have to seriously consider it.  In the 1st, I would find it a bit hard to justify...though I have been known to take a stupid gamble from time to time.  I probably like Latimer much more than some of the data would suggest was wise.

Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State  Ht: 6' 1"  Wt: 212
40 Time: 4.50  Kangaroo Score: 0.960  Agility Score: -0.054
I like Davante Adams, but I have to admit that I view him as just a backup plan if I were to miss out on Allen Robinson.  Basically, all of the concerns I have about Robinson extend to Adams, but are somewhat magnified.  Everywhere that Adams did well athletically, Robinson was just a bit better.  While Adams had stunning statistical production, Robinson produced to a greater degree with less surrounding talent (for the most part).  Since I think Robinson might be limited to more of a possession receiver role it's not surprising that my thoughts on Adams are running in a similar direction.  If there is one area where I think Adams comes out ahead of Robinson, it might be related to his hands.  They both seem to be reliable, but Adams hands appear to be just a bit more impressive.  I like Adams, though I doubt I would give him serious consideration before the 3rd round.

Donte Moncrief, WR, Mississippi   Ht: 6' 2"  Wt: 221
40 Time: 4.35  Kangaroo Score: 1.740  Agility Score: -0.545
Jeff Janis, WR, Saginaw Valley St.   Ht: 6' 2.75"  Wt: 219
40 Time: 4.30  Kangaroo Score: 0.986  Agility Score: 1.520
I would probably cut Donte Moncrief from this list altogether.  His combination of mediocre production and poor hands (most likely related issues), makes him too risky for where many people seem to be projecting that he will be taken, in the 2nd to 3rd round.  Considering the possibility that you can probably get a similarly athletic freak with similarly sketchy hands a couple of rounds later by selecting Jeff Janis, the value in looking at Moncrief seems unjustified.  There's just a little too much Robert Meachem to these guys for me to feel comfortable with using a high draft pick.  Still, I doubt they can be any worse than Stephen Hill.

Mike Campanaro, WR, Wake Forest  Ht: 5' 9.5"  Wt: 192
40 Time: 4.44  Kangaroo Score: 0.113  Agility Score: 1.116
As a mid-to-late round prospect, I think Campanaro is fairly interesting.  His Stat Score actually somewhat underrates his performance, as he missed numerous games with injuries.  At the same time...he missed numerous game with injuries, which is obviously a concern.  Athletically, he's perfectly reasonable, with the sort of quickness, speed, and agility I look for in a small receiver, though I wouldn't describe his speed as blazing.  He seems to have reliable hands, and I wouldn't be surprised if he turns out to be decent, if he can avoid injuries.

Albert Wilson, WR, Georgia St.  Ht: 5' 9"  Wt: 202
40 Time: 4.35  Kangaroo Score: 0.168  Agility Score: -0.169
I should probably cut Wilson from the list too.  His statistical production, while quite good, obviously came against a lower level of competition.  I also really didn't find him to be terribly interesting when I watched him play, but he appeared to be adequate.  The thing that really makes me want to scratch Wilson from consideration is his 10-yard split of 1.59 seconds.  Do you know what the history is of 'Small' receivers who can't crack 1.56 seconds in their 10-yard split?  It's not very good.  Not very good at all. 

Erik Lora, WR, Eastern Illinois   Ht: 5' 10.3"  Wt: 203
40 Time: 4.48  Kangaroo Score: -0.142  Agility Score: 0.526
I won't say much here.  He's obviously a long shot, from a lower level of competition, and has no shockingly exceptional physical traits.  When it comes to athletic ability, he's basically a thicker framed Marqise Lee, at a significantly lower price.  While Lee will obviously be given a prime opportunity to compete, Lora will be lucky to get drafted at all.  Still, I think he could find a niche on some teams.  He seems to be dependable, and that's not a bad thing.

Now, I'd like to take a moment to rant about some people who really scare me.

Whatever team ends up selecting Kelvin Benjamin, should probably check their GM for symptoms of dementia.  While Benjamin's 1,101 receiving yards in his final season at Florida State might seem impressive, it only represented 15.15% of the team's total offense, which is lower than what I am looking for.  Prior to the 2013 season, he was even less of a presence, and from what I could tell seemed quite unreliable at catching the ball.  The idea of drafting him simply because he is huge, doesn't really make a lot of sense either, as there was little evidence that he possessed any sort of superior athletic ability, since he did poorly in pretty much all of the combine drills.  While I don't make a big deal about Agility Score for 'Big' receivers, his result of -1.624 is still astoundingly bad.  I tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, and also weighed his numbers as if he was a tight end, but he still came out as a bit of a mediocrity.  I expect things to go rather badly for whichever team ends up making this pick.

Martavis Bryant is clearly am impressive athlete (4.34 40-time, 0.869 Kangaroo Score and a -0.406 Agility Score) , but I would have serious concerns about drafting him as highly as some people seem to be projecting he will be taken.  Among NFL players who have averaged 45 yards/game played (a higher tier than I have generally been discussing), almost none have had a stat score as low as Bryant's -0.409.  Among those who did, there was almost always an obvious explanation for their poor statistical production, such as Percy Harvin splitting time at RB, Josh Gordon getting suspended, or Stevie Johnson not getting significant playing time until his final college season.  Most of these factors are things I can adjust for, but in Bryant's case, there doesn't seem to be a great reason to overlook how little he actually accomplished.  He may become a useful player of some sort, but I have to doubt that he will produce to a level that would merit a pick in the first 3 rounds.

I feel somewhat bad for criticizing Paul Richardson.  Athletically, he has some worrisome issues (4.35 40-time, -1.037 Kangaroo Score and a -0.461 Agility Score).  His statistical production was pretty good...when he was able to play.  That right there is the issue.  His low score on the body mass index crushes his Athletic Score (his BMI result is -2.690 standard deviations below average), as the computer feels he is way too much of an injury risk because of his thin frame.  It's a similar situation to why the computer has never been a big fan of Sidney Rice, and I think we have all seen how that turned out.  That he has already missed significant time in his college football career due to injury, somewhat verifies that there is a reason for concern, and also knocks down his stat score due to lack of participation.  If he's healthy, he might still surprise me, but as a long term investment, he is very sketchy, especially for someone that people project might be selected in the 2nd round.

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