Friday, September 5, 2014

WR Size Matters (that's what she said)

The Browns' somewhat recent release of wide receiver Charles Johnson has left me feeling sad and despondent.  I had such great plans for him, and now...well...I guess I'll just get drunk and listen to The Cure.  Robert Smith understands my pain.  My hopes have been dashed against the rocks that are the skulls of the Browns' brain-trust, and there's nothing I can do.

I have no real issue with the Browns.  I may live in Baltimore, but I can't say that I have any real allegiance to my local team (or any team), or any hatred for their rivals.  Yes, I think the Browns organization may be run by  individuals who are riding the short bus, but that doesn't necessarily mean I have a lower opinion of them than I do of the 31 other teams.  It's just that in this particular case, I am completely confounded as to what their plan might be at the wide receiver position.  What's the deal with all of those midget receivers that they seem to be clinging to, at the expense of my Chosen One?  Yes, I'm looking at you Andrew Hawkins, Travis Benjamin and Taylor Gabriel.  Your diminutive stature confuses me.

I'm not saying that these sorts of guys can't be good, but I do tend to believe that the odds aren't in their favor.  They're not just small; they're really really really small.  They're so small, that they ask their wives to reach things that are on high shelves.  They're so small that calling them 'cute' or 'adorable' seems kind of like a fitting description.  Nobody calls Demaryius Thomas or Calvin Johnson cute.  No, they're too terrifying and huge for that.

Instead of doing my regular ranting about the degree to which combine data and statistical production in college may be able to predict success (to some degree), let's just make this a ridiculously simple discussion about physical mass.  I'm going to present 2 lists.  The first list will show all of the wide receivers who are under 190 pounds, who have managed to rank in the top 25 for receiving yards during the last five years.  The second list will show all of the receivers who weigh 214 pounds or more, who have managed to rank in the top 25 in receiving yards during the last five years.  Choosing 214 pounds as the cutoff point may seem like a random number, but there is a reason for it, which we'll get to a bit later.  Regardless, this is all intended to look at the two extreme ends of the bell curve when it comes to one very simple measurement, weight.  I couldn't make this simpler if I tried.

Besides listing where the players ranked in NFL receiving yards (just among wide receivers, since we want to exclude tight ends and running backs), we will also list where they ranked in the the NFL when it came to receiving touchdowns.  I should also mention that these players have their height listed in inches, and their weight is based on their current listed weight, rather than their combine weigh in.  Okey dokey, let's get to the list.


Player     Height     Weight     Rec.       Yards       TDs   Yrd/Rank  TD/Rank
Antonio Brown 70 186 110 1,499 8 2 13
DeSean Jackson 69 178 82 1,332 9 9 11
T.Y. Hilton 69 183 82 1,083 5 17 25
Harry Douglas 71 183 85 1,067 2 19 69


Player     Height     Weight     Rec.       Yards       TDs   Yrd/Rank  TD/Rank
Wes Welker 69 185 118 1,354 6 8 26


Player     Height     Weight     Rec.       Yards       TDs   Yrd/Rank  TD/Rank
Wes Welker 69 185 122 1,569 9 2 4
Antonio Brown 70 186 69 1,108 2 13 68
Nate Washington 73 183 74 1,023 7 16 18
Percy Harvin 71 184 87 967 6 19 26
DeSean Jackson 69 178 58 961 4 20 43


Player     Height     Weight     Rec.       Yards       TDs   Yrd/Rank  TD/Rank
DeSean Jackson 69 178 47 1056 6 12 24
Johnny Knox 72 185 51 960 5 20 35
Mario Manningham 71 185 60 944 9 21 11
Anthony Armstrong 70 185 44 871 3 24 52
Percy Harvin 71 184 71 868 5 25 35


Player     Height     Weight     Rec.       Yards       TDs   Yrd/Rank  TD/Rank
Wes Welker 69 185 123 1,348 4 2 37
DeSean Jackson 69 178 62 1,156 9 11 7
Chad Johnson 73 188 72 1047 9 18 7

So, out of 125 possible opportunities for a sub-190 pound receiver to make it into the NFL's top 25 for receiving yards (5 years times 25 possible slots, duh?), we seem to have 18 occasions where this actually happened.  This means that sub-190 pound receivers seem to appear in the top 25 about 14.4% of the time.  Whether this is actually a good result or not somewhat depends on how many sub-190 pound receivers there are in the league.  If, for example, only 10% of the receivers coming into the league are in the sub-190 pound range, appearing in the top 25 around 14.4% of the time might be a good result.  On the other hand, if significantly more than 14.4% of the receivers that come into the league are under 190 pounds, then perhaps these pipsqueaks aren't the best guys to bet on.

To answer this question I decided to look outside of my own database of players, and went to  I wanted to make sure that I was getting a fairly random sample of NFL Draft prospects, and their weights, since there was no way to determine if my own database of players wasn't biased.  In the end, it seems that 136 out of the 583 wide receiver prospects on fell into the sub-190 pound range.  That works out to 23.32% of the wide receiver draft pool.  To double check this, I compared it to my own database of players, where we got a result of 22.55% who fell into this weight range.  Either way, the results are pretty similar, and significantly more than the 14.4% that are making it into the list above.  So, it seems that sub-190 pound receivers are making it into the top 25 receiving yards list about 36-38% less often than we might expect, relative to the percentage of the NFL receiver population that they probably make up.

Now, we come to the receivers who weigh 214 pounds or more, and I guess I should explain why I chose 214 pounds as the cutoff point.  Initially, I was going to set the bar at 210 pounds, but this wound up with a larger pool of wide receivers than I really wanted.  When I moved the mark to 214 pounds, I ended up with a group that makes up a very similar portion of the NFL receiver population to what we find with the sub-190 pound players, only at the opposite end of the scale.  According to, players who weigh 214 pounds or more should make up about 20.96% of the NFL's receivers.  In my own database of players, they make up about 23.42% of the league's receivers.  So, about 21-23.4% should be 214 pounds or more, and about 22.5-23.3% should be under 190 pounds.  That seems close enough for government work, and should make our comparisons reasonably fair, as they both seem to occupy a similar portion of the league's receiver population.

Now, onto the list of receivers who weigh 214 pounds or more, who finished in the top 25 for receiving yards during the last 5 years.


Player     Height     Weight     Rec.       Yards       TDs   Yrd/Rank  TD/Rank
Josh Gordon 75 225 87 1646 9 1 11
Calvin Johnson 77 236 84 1492 12 3 3
Demaryius Thomas 75 229 92 1430 14 4 1
Alshon Jeffery 75 216 89 1421 7 6 18
Andre Johnson 75 230 109 1407 5 7 25
Pierre Garcon 72 216 113 1346 5 8 25
Jordy Nelson 75 217 85 1314 8 10 13
Brandon Marshall 76 230 100 1295 12 11 3
Eric Decker 75 214 87 1288 11 12 5
Dez Bryant 74 220 93 1233 13 13 2
Vincent Jackson 77 230 78 1224 7 14 18
Anquan Boldin 73 220 85 1179 7 15 18
Michael Floyd 74 220 65 1041 5 22 25
Larry Fitzgerald 75 218 82 954 10 25 7


Player     Height     Weight     Rec.       Yards       TDs   Yrd/Rank  TD/Rank
Calvin Johnson 77 236 122 1964 5 1 30
Andre Johnson 75 230 112 1598 4 2 40
Brandon Marshall 76 230 118 1508 11 3 4
Demaryius Thomas 75 229 94 1434 10 4 6
Vincent Jackson 77 230 72 1384 8 5 12
Dez Bryant 74 220 92 1382 12 6 3
Julio Jones 75 220 79 1198 10 11 6
Marques Colston 76 225 83 1154 10 13 6
Michael Crabtree 73 214 85 1105 9 14 10
Eric Decker 75 214 85 1064 13 17 2
Miles Austin 74 215 66 943 6 23 26
Anquan Boldin 73 220 65 921 4 24 40


Player     Height     Weight     Rec.       Yards       TDs   Yrd/Rank  TD/Rank
Calvin Johnson 77 236 96 1681 16 1 1
Larry Fitzgerald 75 218 80 1411 8 4 9
Jordy Nelson 75 217 68 1263 15 7 2
Brandon Marshall 76 230 81 1214 6 8 26
Dwayne Bowe 74 221 81 1159 5 11 33
Marques Colston 76 225 80 1143 8 12 9
Vincent Jackson 77 230 60 1106 9 14 4
Dar. Heyward-Bey 74 219 64 975 4 18 43
Julio Jones 75 220 54 959 8 22 9
Pierre Garcon 72 216 70 947 6 24 26


Player     Height     Weight     Rec.       Yards       TDs   Yrd/Rank  TD/Rank
Andre Johnson 75 230 86 1216 8 6 14
Dwayne Bowe 74 221 72 1162 15 7 1
Larry Fitzgerald 75 218 90 1137 6 8 24
Calvin Johnson 77 236 77 1120 12 9 2
Miles Austin 74 215 69 1041 7 14 17
Marques Colston 76 225 84 1023 7 15 17
Brandon Marshall 76 230 86 1014 3 16 52
Terrell Owens 75 224 72 983 9 17 11
Braylon Edwards 75 214 53 904 7 22 17


Player     Height     Weight     Rec.       Yards       TDs   Yrd/Rank  TD/Rank
Andre Johnson 75 230 101 1569 9 1 7
Miles Austin 74 215 81 1320 11 3 3
Vincent Jackson 77 230 68 1167 9 9 7
Brandon Marshall 76 230 101 1120 10 13 5
Larry Fitzgerald 75 218 97 1092 13 15 1
Marques Colston 76 225 70 1074 9 16 7
Anquan Boldin 73 220 84 1024 4 20 37
Calvin Johnson 77 236 67 984 5 21 28

Okay, let's get to it.  Out of 125 possible slots in the top 25, receivers who weigh 214 pounds or more have filled 53 of them.  That works out to 42.4% of the league's top 25 receiving years, in terms of yards, coming from a group that should only make up about 21-23.4% of the league's total pool of receivers.  It could be said that these bulkier receivers seem to be dominating the league at a rate that is perhaps 81-97% higher than what you might expect given the percentage of the league's receiver population that they occupy.  I guess this isn't exactly shocking, since this is sort of what we probably all expected, isn't it?

Let's consider something outside of the degree to which these players dominate in the receiving yards category.  Let's look at how they fare when it comes to producing touchdowns.  What if we examined the difference between each player's "TD/Rank" and their "Yrd/Rank"? Well, If we did that, sub-190 pound receivers' TD/Rank would fall between 14.05 to 10.5 slots lower than their Yrd/Rank, depending on whether we were looking at the average or median level of decline.  Small guys may get good yardage, but they don't tend to score a lot of touchdowns.  On the other hand, when we look at the receivers who weigh 214 pounds or more, their TD/Rank only falls between 3.09 to 2 slots, again depending on whether we are looking at the average or median level of decline.  I'd say that this minimal drop in TD/Rank is almost nonexistent, though touchdown catches can still always be a bit fluky.  So, not that this will come as any real surprise, the larger receivers not only dominate when it comes to appearances in the top 25 for receiving yards, but they also tend to rank much higher when it comes to producing touchdowns.  Yes, duh, duh duh.  Everybody knows this, or suspects it.  I'm just not sure that the Browns have figured it out yet.

Okay, so everybody kind of expects larger receivers to dominate.  Still, the degree to which this happens seems to get overlooked to some extent.  Among players in the top 25 in receiving yards, players who weigh 214 pounds make 2.94 times more appearances than sub-190 pound players.  Among players in the top 25 for touchdowns, we see players who weigh 214 pounds appearing 4.66 times as often as sub-190 pound players.  But what if we step things up a bit, and look at the top10 rather than the top 25?  When we do that, there are 4.8 times as many top 10 receiving yards appearances for players who weigh 214 pounds or more than there are for sub-190 pound players.  With top 10 appearances for receiving touchdowns, players who weigh 214 pounds or more show up 9.33 times more often than such appearances by sub-190 pound receivers.  The more demanding your expectations become, the more you seem to wander into the land of the plus sized receiver. 

And yet, the Browns felt it was vitally important to hold onto 3 rather minuscule wide receivers, while cutting my love-child Charles Johnson.  Let's take a look at the evil hobgoblins who have been upsetting my dreams, and see how they compare to the sub-190 pound receivers who have made it in to the top 25 in the past five years.

Browns' Midgets        Height     Weight
Taylor Gabriel 68 167
Andrew Hawkins 67 180
Travis Benjamin 70 175

AVG Top 25 Midget 70.22 183.27

Even by the average standards of munchkin sized receivers, this trio of Browns' receivers appears to be surprisingly small.  Of course, whenever a team signs players like these guys fans start saying things like "This guy could be our Wes Welker/DeSean Jackson/Antonio Brown!".  Sure, that could happen, but the odds are that it won't.  Wes Welker, DeSean Jackson and Antonio Brown are somewhat peculiar players, and in no way do I wish to diminish their accomplishments.  They've been excellent.  Still, they are sort of the exceptions to the rule, and considering that only one of them was selected before the 6th round, it's not as if we can really trust the idea that NFL talent scouts have a great eye for these types of players.  These players are most likely the proverbial nut found by a blind squirrel.

Oddly enough, if there was one pint sized receiver on the Browns' roster that actually interests me, it might be Taylor Gabriel, who's the smallest of the lot.  At least he was reasonably productive in college, which is more than I can say for Travis Benjamin.  Hawkins is a bit more of a mystery, since he split time at cornerback while at Toledo, making his statistical profile a bit peculiar.  Still, the question remains, do they really need to hold onto three of these guys?  How many kick returner/slot receiver types of players does one team need?  Also, what do you do with a slot receiver, when you have practically nobody to 'slot' them between?  Are we really counting on Miles "Ouch, my hamstring" Austin to make it through a complete season uninjured?  It seems unlikely.

The real problem is that there appears to be a bit of a ceiling for munchkin receivers, that perhaps isn't there for the larger players.  Saying where an individual player's 'ceiling' and 'floor' exists, isn't something I would really like to do.  Yes, occasionally a little guy breaks through, and produces at a high level.  But is that a reason to horde these types of players just on the off chance of this happening?  So far, the 28 year old Hawkins has averaged 28.42 receiving yards per game played, with a total of 4 career receiving touchdowns.  Benjamin has averaged 18.31 receiving yards per game played, and 2 career receiving touchdowns.  Both fall a bit short of the 35 yards per game played that I generally consider to be an average result.  Oh, but Benjamin was drafted in the 3rd round, so the team can't possibly cut him...uggh.  Shoot me now.

Do we really think that the highly athletic 6'2" and 215# Charles Johnson's floor couldn't have at least equaled such mediocre production?  A mere 454 receiving yard season with 1 or 2 touchdowns would have been sufficient to exceed the output of these players, and his size alone should make him a much more viable red zone threat.  I would think that practically any halfway competent receiver could hit that mark if given a chance.

Maybe the Browns have some ingenious plan to join all three of these waifish receivers together to form something like Voltron.  That would certainly be awesome, and make my suffering worthwhile.  Maybe they will develop some insane offense that involves lateraling the ball from one pipsqueak to another and then to another.  Maybe the Browns will become the 'all kick return' team, and completely forgo having a passing offense.  Yeah, they might just catch everyone sleeping with their super secret special teams assault.  Maybe they are constructing some sort of wide receiver Russian nesting doll, and needed a few pipsqueaks for the inner layers.  I also really have to wonder if Browns' GM Ray Farmer has his house guarded by a swarming pack of chihuahuas, figuring that as a group they might accomplish the job of one rottweiler.

While I genuinely wish Cleveland fans the best, I have to admit that I'm not feeling terribly fond of their GM at this point.  You're killing my dreams Mr. Farmer!  There will be no Christmas gifts or birthday cards for you.  If you want to apologize, I'll just be lying here weeping into my pillow, and waiting for you to give Charles Johnson another look.


  1. I think everyone loves a big fast WR....johnson was 6'2 4.39 speed.....Then again this is cleveland so you shouldn't really be that suprised....I mean they drafted tim couch (never draft a QB who has a non-uncommon common name) (Draft a luck,manning,rivers,brady....the results are good...) Point is cleveland sucks. Now focus on the ahtletic freak of nature known as J.J watt and forget ur troubles.

    1. Good news, everyone!

    2. It's encouraging, but the Bridgewater/Johnson connection was a bit rough yesterday. I'll blame Bridgewater for most of that, because I'm a jackass. Still, I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Charles Johnson.