With the draft a couple of days away, it’s a good time to unveil the official Banana Stand 2012 Wide Receiver Draft Rankings. I’m an extreme skeptic of eyeball evaluations for a variety of reasons I won’t go into, but here’s the crux of the matter: Everything you can see on tape is expressed in the stats … if you have the right stats. We probably aren’t there yet in football, but we’re closing in. (Well, not everything. Work ethic and character matter a lot. Unfortunately, they’re often no less inscrutable.)
Here’s a brief description of the stats used here:
If you’ve read the Fantasy Douche’s excellent book, Game Plan, you know he’s got a lot of intriguing ideas for improving NFL decision-making through the use of statistical analysis. One of my favorites is the suggestion that market share of collegiate yards and TDs is a better barometer of future performance than raw yardage and TD numbers. For the time being, I’m referring to this as the Dominator Rating, not only because players who excel in this metric have been dominant players in college but because they dominated the looks on their own teams.
In terms of predicting NFL success, any number over .50 – which roughly corresponds to having caught 50% of your team’s yards and TDs – projects as an NFL superstar or Top 10 overall pick value. .45-.50 is excellent (roughly Top 15 pick value), .40-.45 very good (Top 20 pick), .35-.40 (late first, early second), .30-35 (second round to third round), below .30 (middle round pick). Of course, DR in isolation only provides part of the picture. Almost equally important is the receiver’s physical profile.
Height-Adjusted Speed Score
When Bill Barnwell developed the Speed Score for RBs, the same metric didn’t seem to work for WRs. The reason it doesn’t work is because height plays a big role at the receiving position. Almost every legitimate No. 1 WR at the NFL level is 6’1” or taller. My Height-adjusted Speed Score (HaSS) attempts to fix the problem. HaSS is scaled in the same way as Barnwell’s original Speed Score, with 100 being a solid draftable score, anything over 110 being excellent, and anything over 120 suggesting complete physical dominance. In case you’re wondering, since 1999 the No. 1 HaSS is by Calvin Johnson (143). No. 3 is Vincent Jackson (131). No. 5 is Julio Jones (127), and No. 6 will show up in these rankings.
Bill Connelly at Football Study Hall has provided target data for college WRs back to 2005. This is a huge contribution to the statistical evaluation of collegiate WRs. While I hope to do more with it in the future, I’ve included these numbers in the current rankings mostly for illustrative purposes.
This is the combination of the short shuttle and 3-Cone times. My research for PFF shows this strongly correlates to passing down abilities in running backs. Early study suggests this is a less important metric for receivers, but some successful slot receivers have had extraordinary times in this area. I’ve noted it here for a couple of big, supposedly plodding receivers who may possess deceptive lateral explosion.
Unfortunately, we don’t have access to my two favorite PFF stats for NFL players – yards per route and average depth of target – but some NFL teams might and hopefully industrious individuals out there will provide that information in the coming years.
One final note: I doubt the WRs in this class are as far apart as traditional scouting methods suggest. More important than the rankings are the projected value numbers I give with each blurb.
1. Justin Blackmon
Blackmon probably isn’t Calvin Johnson or Randy Moss, but plenty of ‘possession’ receivers are successful No. 1s at the NFL level, especially if they are TD scorers. Although Blackmon’s production plummeted in his final season, he still recorded a .37 in Dominator Rating. In 2010, his .48 was at the elite level. He recorded a whopping 12 yards per target that season. Blackmon’s Height-adjusted Speed Score of 100* is not particularly good, which gives him more of a young Anquan Boldin-type comparison. (Fantasy owners should remember that Boldin exploded as a rookie on a bad team that was still a year away from selecting Larry Fitzgerald.)
Projected Value: 7-15 Overall Projected Selection: 5-10 Overall
2. Stephen Hill
Hill’s Height-adjusted Speed Score of 125 is the 6th best on record. His .46 Dominator Rating was second best among 2011 WRs, although it’s worth questioning whether the formula accurately applies to such an extreme ball control squad. Hill wasn’t nearly as dominant as Demaryius Thomas – whose .55 DR was among the best ever – but scouting downgrades due to his lack of raw numbers are probably overblown. Scouts question his polish and suddenness off the line, but those same concerns were voiced for Calvin Johnson and seem pretty silly now.
Projected Value: 15-20 Projected Selection: 15-32
3. Alshon Jeffery
Like Blackmon, Jeffery had a massive season in 2010 before falling off in 2011. His supposed conditioning and character concerns have knocked down his stock, but Jeffery is probably the most physically dominant receiver in the class. He posted a .42 DR in 2010 and averaged 11.5 yards per target on 36% target percentage. Both numbers dwarf any season posted by Michael Floyd, another physically talented receiver with at least mild off-field issues. Jeffery didn’t run at the Combine but recorded times in the 4.48 to 4.55 area at his Pro Day. If we use the most conservative number, it translates into a 103 HaSS considering his 6’3”, 216 pound (and fluctuating) frame. Jeffery is a risk/reward pick, but if he falls to the top of the 2nd Round as projected, he becomes a no-brainer.
Projected Value: 15-20 Projected Selection: 25-40
4. Marvin McNutt
The Fantasy Douche is on a personal crusade to raise the profile of McNutt, and he has a convert here. Consider that McNutt has averaged more yards per target than Michael Floyd in both of the last two seasons. His Dominator Rating of .46 is very good and places him in a virtual dead heat with Hill and Mohamed Sanu for second. His HaSS of 103 is solid if not elite. Scouts obviously don’t care for him, but at 6’2”, 216, he fits the needs of NFL teams exactly.
Projected Value: 20-35 Projected Selection: Third Round
5. Reuben Randle
Concerns about Randle center around his mundane yardage total last season (930), but he averaged a strong 10.7 yards per target in a weak passing offense. Randle’s HaSS of 101 is starter quality, and he possesses prototypical No. 1 WR size at 6’3”, 210. Randle’s DR of .41 places him solidly in the first round range.
Projected Value: 25-35 Projected Selection: 25-35 Overall
6. A.J. Jenkins
Jenkins is another player inexplicably buzz-free as the draft nears. Of similar stature to Kendall Wright, Jenkins is much faster and has a better collegiate resume if you can see beyond the raw statistics. Jenkins led college football in target percentage in 2011 and finished second in 2010. His Dominator Rating of .55 puts him in the range of players like Megatron, Demaryius Thomas, and Hakeem Nicks. Jenkins is knocked in these rankings for only being 6’0”, 190, but if you’re going to take a smaller receiver, Jenkins is clearly the one to target.
Projected Value: 25-35 Projected Selection: Late Second to Early Third
7. Dwight Jones
Jones has had a disastrous offseason, struggling to endear himself to coaches at the Senior Bowl and management types at the Combine. Despite this, he possesses massive upside at his probable draft slot. For someone who supposedly struggled to run proper routes in offseason workouts, Jones’ 77% catch percentage offers a striking counterpoint. At 10.8 yards per route, he bests most of the receivers scouts rank ahead of him. Moreover, his .41 DR represents borderline first round value and his 111 HaSS is elite. I’m perhaps being overly sensitive to character concerns here, because otherwise Jones would be ranked even higher.
Projected Value: 33-64 Projected Selection: Fourth Round
8. Michael Floyd
Floyd possesses a very good Height-adjusted Speed Score (113), but probably plays slower than that. The Notre Dame prospect logged pedestrian yards per target numbers both of the last two seasons. In 2011, he caught 69% of his passes and yet only averaged 8 ypt. Floyd’s .39 DR this past season is probably more indicative of early second round value. In 2010, his .36 DR finished a hair behind Juron Criner, a similar WR who can be had in a much more favorable draft slot.
Projected Value: 33-64 Projected Selection: 12-21
9. Chris Givens
There’s been plenty of discussion of whether Kendall Wright really is fast enough to be an elite NFL receiver at his height, but far less attention has been paid to the proven speed receivers. Givens’ Dominator Rating of .41 is very good for a smaller receiver, and he averaged 9.9 yards per target in 2011. Givens height could be a problem at the NFL level, but his HaSS of 99.1 projects to starting value.
Projected Value: 45-64 Projected Selection: Third Round
10. Brian Quick
Quick is a little tricky because Appalachian State plays in the FCS, but his Dominator Rating of .48 is still very impressive and would rank second if you directly compare it to the numbers accumulated at BCS schools. It would be easier to discount if Quick hadn’t also posted a Height-adjusted Speed Score of 108. At 6’4”, 220, Quick could eventually emerge as a No. 1 WR if his drafting team can show patience.
Projected Value: 45-64 Projected Selection: Second Round
11. Juron Criner
Criner’s 2011 injury destroyed any chance of finishing as a 1st Round pick, but his 2010 season was quite impressive. His .38 Dominator Rating bested A.J. Green, Julio Jones, Michael Floyd, and Kendall Wright that year. Criner also averaged 10.4 yards per target, which speaks to better vertical skills than many of the receivers projected ahead of him. Criner falls due to a HaSS of 95, although his abysmal 4.68 40 may have represented less than full recovery from injury. At 6’2”, 224, Criner has perfect size for the NFL game.
Projected Value: 45-64 Projected Selection: Third Round
12. Tommy Streeter
After running a 4.4 at 6’4”, 219, Streeter is left with a Height-adjusted Speed Score in the rarified air of 123. Streeter hasn’t generated the buzz of Stephen Hill, instead seemingly discounted due to his paucity of raw stats. The advanced numbers tell a different story. Streeter’s Dominator Rating of .33 barely trails Kendall Wright, and his 10.5 yards per target is far superior to players like Michael Floyd.
Projected Value: 45-60 Projected Selection: Fifth Round
13. Kendall Wright
Skeptics will assume Wright’s ranking is meant for shock effect, but the opposite is actually true. It was very difficult to put Wright so low, because it will destroy this list’s credibility in the eyes of scouting adherents. In the end, being true to the concept is more important. This draft is so deep at the WR position that Wright’s profile simply doesn’t justify a higher rating. Wright’s Dominator Rating of .36 ranks 13th among WRs expected to be taken this weekend, and his HaSS of 83 is so bad it’s not going to look pretty even if you adjust his 40 down significantly for the supposed early hand movement.
The best argument in favor of Wright is the elite 11.5 yards per target he averaged last season, and the fact that he was the target on an impressive 34% of Baylor’s passes. While Wright is actually not very similar to Greg Jennings as some suggest – the Western Michigan alum posted far better numbers in both DR and HaSS – Wright’s profile shouldn’t be seen as a death sentence for his NFL career. While few successful NFL receivers have posted a HaSS below 90, the electric Steve Smith notched an 88, while deep threat Mario Manningham recorded an 81. In the end, the closest recent comparison is probably Titus Young, a player with deceptively high yardage totals and a discouraging size/speed profile. Young had a solid rookie season but was a definite overdraft with Torrey Smith still on the board.
Projected Value: 45-64 Projected Selection: 15-35
14. Mohamed Sanu
All of the above receivers seem to have potential upside as a No. 1 WR, elite slot guy, or vertical threat. Although Sanu may have WR2 upside, he seems like a very safe pick as a future contributor. Only A.J. Jenkins saw a higher percentage of his team’s targets in 2011, and his .46 Dominator Rating offers an indication of his red zone value and an important reminder that some possession receivers score more often than others. The red flags on Sanu are speed related. Sanu has excellent height, but his 4.67 40 comes at only 211 pounds. His 6.9 yards per target last year at Rutgers is also distressingly low. On the other hand, Sanu’s 11.1 Agility Score is fractions better than diminutive speed receivers Kendall Wright and Chris Givens.
Projected Value: Third Round Projected Selection: Third Round
15. Gerell Robinson
That Robinson only saw 22% of the targets in Arizona St.’s offense last season is a red flag, but he averaged a whopping 12.4 yards per target. The former Sun Devil ran a mildly disappointing 4.6 in the 40 but possesses excellent size at 6’3”, 225”. His 4.15 short shuttle time was faster than Kendall Wright’s.
Projected Value: Third Round Projected Selection: Fourth Round
Ryan Broyles – Absent a torn ACL, Broyles might be talked about in the same breath as Kendall Wright. As was the case with Juron Criner, Broyles’ .35 Dominator Rating bested most of the big name WRs in 2010. Unfortunately, he’s short, relatively slow, and rehabbing a serious injury. If he’s an elite slot receiver three years from now, teams will wonder why Broyles went so late in the 2012 draft.
Junior Hemingway – The former Wolverine wasn’t particularly productive in college, but his workout numbers are impressive, including a video game-like 10.57 Agility Score.
Nick Toon – Toon has excellent size, a 10.4 ypt number his final year in college, and a solid .29 DR.
Marvin Jones – At 199 pounds, Jones’ build is a red flag, but his 4.46 40 and 10.92 Agility Score are encouraging workout numbers. Jones simply didn’t earn a large enough percentage of his team’s receiving production (0.22 DR) to warrant the high ranking given by many scouts.