Before the NFL Draft I debuted the Height-adjusted Speed Score (HaSS) and Dominator Rating (DR) as a means of ranking rookies. This two part series looks at potential breakout players. Part One highlights the guys DR and HaSS are crazy about. This column takes the opposite approach, examining some wide receivers you should approach with caution.
In saying these players sport red flags, I mean they have significant risk in relationship to the lofty expectations. Some of these players make solid WR3/4 targets, but if you’re drafting them as your WR1/2 it’ll be a different story.
These are not players I’m rooting against. In many cases it’s the exact opposite. I’m as big a sucker for a good narrative as the next guy, and nothing thrills like a true underdog story. While it’s very rare, players with poor projections occasionally even emerge as superstars. The Panthers’ Steve Smith is the perfect example of a player with both a terrible Height-adjusted Speed Score and poor Dominator Rating coming out of college.
If you like these players, draft them. Your team should be made up of players you want to root for. I’m merely trying to shed some extra light on players about whom you might be emotionally agnostic.
1. Denarius Moore: HaSS – 100, DR – .32
Although the current hamstring injury has deflated the irrational exuberance surrounding Moore, his pre-camp expectations were definitely out of hand. Moore’s a good athlete and was a good college player. NFL GMs should be embarrassed for letting him fall to the 5th round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Conversely, it’s probably too early to consider him either an elite vertical threat or a strong candidate to emerge as a stud all around receiver. Many pundits are now comparing him to Mike Wallace, but Wallace ran a 4.28 at the Combine, giving him a 116 HaSS. In terms of running away from defensive backs, there’s a gigantic difference between a 4.28 and Moore’s 4.43. The Raiders’ receiving corps is deeper than it’s been in recent memory, and some believe they’ll operate a run-oriented offense under Greg Knapp. I was a Moore owner from Day 1 in 2011, so consider me a confused enthusiast/skeptic.
2. Jeremy Maclin: HaSS – 100, DR – .30
Maclin and Moore are nearly identical players from a physical perspective. A reputed burner coming out of Missouri, the current Eagle ran a disappointing 4.45 at the Combine. Maclin seemingly separates at will in Philadelphia’s aggressive, pass-oriented offense, and many consider his emergence as a WR1 in 2012 to be a virtual lock. Although the Eagles’ lack of a true red zone receiver may help Maclin’s cause, he does not have the size/speed combination of a player with good odds for double digit touchdowns.
3. Randall Cobb: HaSS – 90, DR – .28
Cobb’s Dominator Rating may be artificially low because it doesn’t account for the 424 yards and 5 touchdowns he racked up as a rusher in his final year at Kentucky. (As a Wildcat QB he also threw 3 TD passes.) On the other hand, he finished with fewer TD receptions and barely more receiving yards than non-prospect Chris Matthews. Cobb’s 4.46 speed is nothing special for a 5’11”, 191 pound receiver.
I’ve been somewhat reluctant to post Agility Scores for wide receivers because I’ve yet to go through and discover whether it has a predictive effect on their performance. Still, Cobb’s is strikingly bad for a projected slot superstar. His 11.42 Agility Score is more than a second slower than the best WR time on record. 11.1 is the rule of thumb I use for running backs to project as successful out of the backfield, and, just glancing through the data, the same appears a fair line of demarcation for true possession receivers. (As I often point out for Mark Ingram who somehow ran an 11.75, perhaps Cobb slipped and fell down on one of the two drills.)
Comparisons to Percy Harvin are steadily proliferating, but the two players are really not that similar. The former Gator has a fairly significant edge in speed (4.39) as well as a far superior situation. It’s difficult to see where Cobb’s targets will come any time in the near future. Jordy Nelson (HaSS 109/DR .49) and Greg Jennings (98/.47) are entrenched starters and borderline superstars in their own rights. Moreover, the Packers’ offense frequently uses Jennings in the slot, which is where Cobb would purportedly line up. Most writers seem to be focusing on the date when Cobb beats out Donald Driver – which should be Day 1 this season – but once you throw Jermichael Finley into the equation, Cobb doesn’t project higher than fourth on the Green Bay totem pole any time in the near future.
4. Titus Young: HaSS – 86, DR – .26
Like the three players ahead of him on this list, fans are enamored with Young’s speed, but he simply didn’t run very fast at the Combine (4.43). He’s also really, really slender (174 lbs.). Okay, so this system is hopelessly prejudiced against small, thin receivers, but that’s because the deck is stacked against them. And it is possible to be tiny and get a good HaSS. You just have to run the 4.22 that Jacoby Ford posted. The Lions drafted Young after seeing him record over 1200 yards in his final year at Boise, but that starts to pale when you consider they threw for more than 4000. I’m a Lions fan, so I was trying to find some optimistic comparisons for Young. I immediately thought of Marvin Harrison, a player who is somewhat similar in terms of size and speed. Unfortunately, when I checked Harrison’s Dominator Rating, I found it was .53, more than double that of Young. I still like Young – and I actually think he may outperform Maclin – but these numbers will certainly give you pause. His 8th round ADP already prices in all but the most extreme breakout.
5. Vincent Brown: HaSS – 75, DR – .35
Depending on your take on Malcom Floyd’s ability to stay healthy and Eddie Royal’s prospects to morph back into an elite possession threat – more on that in a minute as well – you might have Brown on your sleeper list. Brown sports a disastrous Height-adjusted Speed Score because you simply can’t run a 4.68 when you’re only 5’11”. From 2006 to 2011, there isn’t a single lower HaSS on record, including players who were invited to the Combine but didn’t sniff the NFL (unless you want to consider Dexter McCluster a WR). The former Aztec did rack up 1352 yards and 10 TDs in his final year at San Diego St., but that only gives him a middle of the road Dominator Rating due to their prolific offense. If there’s a point in Brown’s favor, it’s this: slow-but-quick (10.89 Agility Score) receivers with a history of serious yardage in college seem to blossom into productive possession receivers more often than fast guys who basically sucked in college (you know, the kind of guys who kept going before Big 10 Receiver of the Year Marvin McNutt in this year’s NFL Draft). Editor’s note: Brown broke his ankle in San Diego’s second preseason game.
6. Antonio Brown: HaSS – 81, DR – .33
I’m a big fan of Brown. When receivers who qualify for the Red Flag list end up breaking out, it’s a great story. Brown had an extraordinary second season as an elite possession threat for the Steelers in 2011. In this instance, Brown has already broken out. The question is whether he continues to ascend or slips back into the pack. Because he’s young and because he scored very few TDs per catch, it’s tempting to actually bump his 2012 projection. The problem is that Brown lacks the athleticism to be much of a red zone threat, which is attested to by his measurables and his inability to truly dominate at Central Michigan. (While Brown never posted much more than a mid-level DR, he was a 1000-yard receiver as a freshman.) Although I hope it’s not the case, I worry Brown’s numbers will drop slightly this year, making him a questionable pick in Round 5.
7. Eddie Royal: HaSS – 92, DR – .21
Royal is a veteran, but now with a new home in San Diego he’s gathering some . . . I’m not sure what to call it, post-post-hype momentum? Perhaps he’s the rare Fifth Year Breakout candidate. The former Bronco is, or at least was, relatively fast (4.39), but he’s so small that it still doesn’t project very well. He never hit even 500 yards receiving in Virginia Tech’s run-based scheme. His collegiate numbers are in line with his last three professional seasons where he’s put up barely 1000 total yards and only 4 TDs. It makes his Jay Cutler– and Mike Shanahan-fueled rookie campaign look like a pretty clear aberration. Editor’s note: The injury to Vincent Brown should help Royal’s flagging ADP, but I would stay away from all Charger receivers this season. If you’re that big of a believer in Philip Rivers, target Antonio Gates.
8. Davone Bess: HaSS – 79, DR – .23
Bess is worth mentioning because he has featured heavily in my Possession Receiver Breakout columns for PFF, and there’s some expectation that his snap percentage might increase this season with Brandon Marshall departing. There’s virtually no risk at his current ADP of WR68, but I’ve seen him drafted much earlier than that in some high stakes formats.
Bess is another one of my favorite NFL players because he has no business being on a roster at the highest level and yet he hasn’t let that stop him. Bess ran a 4.64 at 5’10”. His raw college stats are impressive – he scored a whopping 41 TDs in three years – but in two of his three seasons he finished with fewer yards than Ryan Grice-Mullen and the other he barely nipped Jason Rivers. (His highest DR of .31 was actually in his first season with the Warriors, but he backed it up with two in the low .20s.) I don’t know who emerges in Miami – B.J. Cunningham is probably a pretty good deep sleeper to keep your eyes on – but the odds are stacked against Bess turning into Wes Welker, especially when you consider how bad the Dolphins could be on offense this season. On the other hand, it would be an awesome story.
And two that might be worth mentioning for their impact on other sleepers . . .
9. Donnie Avery: HaSS – 95, DR – .35
Whether or not Avery sees much in the way of snaps for the Colts this season could impact the target numbers of Austin Collie and Coby Fleener. With Collie potentially shelved, Avery’s potential renaissance may dictate whether rookies T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill make good on their deep sleeper potential. Avery is a putative speed threat, but, as I’ve said ad nauseam in reference to players on this list, his 4.43 isn’t particularly good for a player of his stature. (Avery ran as fast as 4.27 at his pro day, which emphasizes how much discounting should go into non-Combine times.) Even with nearly 1500 yards receiving in his final year at Houston, he was probably always a reach as the first wide receiver taken in the 2008 Draft. With only 7 TDs, his market share of the Cougars offense was solid but not spectacular. Of course, probably none of that matters anyway since Avery hasn’t been nearly the same player since tearing his ACL in the 2010 preseason. My point is that even if Avery is all the way back, expect the numbers to go elsewhere.
10. Jerrel Jernigan: HaSS – 85, DR – .21
This is just to reaffirm that Rueben Randle should have no trouble beating out the 2011 3rd Round pick. Eerily reminiscent of the way in which they wasted a pick on Sinorice Moss, Jernigan simply doesn’t project as an NFL player and probably shouldn’t have been seen as anything more than a priority free agent at draft time last year.
Full Disclosure: My draft strategy is usually WR-centric, and I still like some of these receivers if they fall in drafts. When I do own these players, I expect them to be complementary pieces: Maclin (WR3/4), A. Brown (WR4), Moore (WR5), Young (WR5), and Cobb (WR5/6).