NFL Draft 2011 ~ Statistical Analysis of WR Leonard Hankerson, the Best "Big WR" Available in the NFL Draft...and possibly the next Hakeem Nicks

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NFL Draft 2011

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NFL DRAFT 2011- WR

By R.C. Fischer

Release Date:  4/6/2011

Statistical Analysis of WR Leonard Hankerson, the Best "Big WR" Available in the NFL Draft...and possibly the next Hakeem Nicks

Leonard Hankerson, Miami, Fla WR -- 2011 NFL Draft, Fantasy Football 2011

*our "Big WRs" are 6'0+ and 205+ pounds, or 6'2+ no matter what weight

**You may enjoy an article on the overall statistical problem with drafting WRs, which is a forerunner to these individual player reports -- NFL Draft 2011 - Why are you so sure Julio Jones and A.J. Green are NFL "Locks"? A Look at the Comedy that is WR Draft Picks in the NFL - Fantasy Football 2011

 

Before you go crazy on this "heresy", hear me out.

Actually, let's re-visit recent history for a quick second before you try to "burn me at the stake" for daring spit in the face of the NFL Draft media's Julio Jones/A.J. Green obsession that they have been constantly forcing on us...

2009:

In 2009, the media was debating the absolute unquestioned greatness of Michael Crabtree. The argument was only, "is Crabtree a #1 overall pick or is he just a Top-5 pick"? No one would dare dispute the "fact" of Crabtree's pending greatness. When the media took a breath from pushing Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin was part of the early draft pick discussions...but definitely to be selected after his "holiness" (Michael Crabtree). Late in the 2009 pre-Draft hype, along came Darrius Heyward-Bey, and his "super-human" speed, into the discussion as a 1st Round pick (the fact he had lower college performance metrics and, in general, couldn't catch the ball very well; didn't seem to bother anyone).

Draft Day 2009 -- Crabtree falls, but just to #10 overall. Maclin is selected #19 and somehow Darrius Heyward-Bey is selected #7 overall. The DHB pick is panned for being "too high" (how dare an NFL team not take players in the order the media has ordained them to!), but all media had signed off on DHB as a 1st Round pick...so their fingerprints are on the weapon, whether they deny it or not.

As fans, we took that all that pre-Draft hype in -- and ran with it. As the NFL pre-season started -- Crabtree became "a steal" in the media and around the water cooler, and was highly selected in Fantasy Football Draft's despite a ridiculous hold-out...and many of you got burned with the thought process of "knowing" Crabtree would be an instant elite WR (don't blame the QB, Vernon Davis was amazing that year). Some of you even went back for seconds on this burn, by taking him again last season as a Top-10/15 Fantasy Football WR in 2010. Everyone seemed so sure Michael Crabtree was "money" coming out Texas Tech...that great catch against Texas (and it was), those big college stats, and the media pumping him -- how could it be wrong?...only it was.

The best WR taken that 2009 Draft day wasn't Michael Crabtree, or Darrius Heyward-Bey, or Jeremy Maclin...the best future NFL WR was the 4th WR taken in that Draft -- Hakeem Nicks, and it's not even close (among "Big WRs") for a debate. Hakeem Nicks is an elite NFL WR; and there has rarely been a WR like him seen in the NFL (combo of productivity, size, speed, strength, hands)...only no one said it at the time. Instead the NY Giants were mostly mocked for the pick for being a "reach". No one said Nicks was better than Crabtree, except maybe us. WR Hakeem Nicks  and Michael Crabtree - Fantasy Football 2010 Picks and Projections

2010:

In 2010, there was a less heated pre-draft debate on the WRs, with most of it focused on the pending greatness of Dez Bryant; while other media looked toward Demaryius Thomas, Arrellious Benn or Golden Tate as 1st Round talent. Ultimately, Demaryius Thomas was the highest selected WR in the Draft...but, he wasn't the best WR in the NFL (so far). In the end, with only a short snapshot of history, the best WR out of the 2010 NFL Draft (so far) is Mike Williams/TB...and we missed this by a mile, our system did not have Williams with the potential to be anything besides mediocre. I'm still "out with the jury" on Williams, but no denying he had a very good season...and the overall point being -- there is recent precedent of the true top WRs in the Draft being ignored in the media completely.

In the last 2 NFL Drafts, the best performing NFL WR wasn't even selected among the first 3 WRs drafted. Both Hakeem Nicks and Mike Williams were barely discussed (positively) in the media leading into the NFL Draft. With that in mind, at least be open to the fact that the best future NFL WR may actually not be in the media's Top-5 WRs currently...because it is a recent theme that the media is missing the WR mark often in their NFL Draft analysis (again see article on the recent history above).

2011:

In 2011, we have the very obvious A.J. Green and Julio Jones as media darlings at the top of WR lists, and then usually Torrey Smith and Randall Cobb in some order with Jonathan Baldwin and Leonard Hankerson mixed in there somewhere. Just like Hakeem Nicks was considered the 5th-7th best WR in the 2009 draft, the best WR in the 2011 NFL Draft is also on the outskirts of the consensus Top-5...the best WR in the Draft, according to our system analysis, is Miami's Leonard Hankerson. Let's get into the case of why we consider Hankerson is the best of 2011:

 

The case for Leonard Hankerson vs. A.J. Green

The best way to make the case for Hankerson, is going to be to compare him against Julio Jones and A.J. Green...so let's do just that.

Physically, Leonard Hankerson is the more impressive prospect than A.J. Green. If you left the names off a list and did a blind "taste test", and all you knew was the various measurements on speed, size, etc to compare them -- you would chose the Leonard Hankerson option every time. Any media outlet that you read or hear about "waxing poetic" about A.J. Green's incredible physical prowess, you know they haven't done their homework and they are just parroting each other. Not that Green is a physical dud, it's just that there are several 2011 WR prospects that are more physically impressive than Green...including Leonard Hankerson. The tale of the tape:

SPEED (comparisons among 18 "Big WRs we are now focusing on this year) at the NFL Combine:

  • 40-yard dash = 4.43 for Hankerson (3rd fastest), 4.48 for Green (6th fastest)
  • 20-yard dash = 2.53 for Hankerson, 2.53 for Green...both tied for 4th fastest
  • 10-yard dash = 1.51 for Hankerson (2nd fastest), 1.55 for Green (8th fastest)
  • Shuttle Drill = 4.21 for Hankerson, 4.21 for Green...both tied for 7th best
  • 3-Cone Drill = 6.91 for Green (10th fastest), 6.94 for Hankerson (11th fastest)

At worst you could judge that Hankerson and Green are comparable/equal in speed and agility. I would give the edge to Hankerson due to faster 40-yard dash time and fastest 10-yard dash/burst measurement...the 1.51 for Hankerson in the 10-yard is excellent vs. Green at 1.55 is very mediocre (historically).

I know, "who cares about the NFL Combine's speed measurements", "what if they had a bad day", or "can I really trust the stopwatches?". No matter what, hopefully you will at least admit Hankerson is as fast as A.J Green. Let's move towards physical measurements that don't have the potential "variation issues"

SIZE:

  • HEIGHT = 6'3.6 for Green, 6'1.5 for Hankerson (2 extra inches is a check mark in favor of Green over Hankerson)
  • ARM LENGTH = 34.3" for Green (2nd best of 2011 Big WRs we are looking at so far), 33.6" for Hankerson (4th Best)
  • VERTICAL = 36.0 for Hankerson (6th best), 34.5 for Green (tied with several for 9th best)
  • If you take Height, arm length, and vertical all rolled into one -- Green has more "reach" or "span" by 1.3" inches...close, but in the favor of Green.

The argument can be made that Green is taller, but the argument could also be made that Hankerson cuts into that edge due to his vertical leap advantage...how many passes are caught flat footed?

The physical metric that is the major separation between both of these WRs is hand-size. A.J. Green has a little smaller than (NFL WR) average 9.2" hand-size, whereas Leonard Hankerson has the largest hands (of the 18 "Big WRs" we are focusing on) on record at 10.5". Measure your spread fingers from pinky tip to thumb tip and then look at the ruler again at where the 10.5" mark is at (just assuming you don't have 10.5" hands), and realize how massive 10.5" is from an NFL/NBA etc scenario...it is a major advantage in the (NFL) workplace. Watch highlight film of Leonard Hankerson and see how many unbelievable one-handed catches he makes...now you know why. Small hands are a major red-flag for a WR to translate to the NFL, especially on a cold weather team...or just playing opponents in the cold weather -- this is going to be a potential issue for A.J. Green translating as well to the NFL (it has been for many former great college WRs).

A.J. Green is also 211 pounds, 2 pounds heavier than Hankerson...but Green is also 2 inches taller. Green is a little lankier, and Hankerson is more solid/compact. Solid/compact may scare you, but re-consider that Hankerson is as fast or faster than Green...and "Solid + Burst = dangerous" in the NFL; a la Hakeem Nicks (more on that upcoming).

A.J. Green was able to bench press more reps than Hankerson, which is a good thing for Green...but it is also the one thing that a player can improve upon quickly with trainers. The gap between the two was 4 bench reps, advantage Green.

From an overall physical standpoint, you could call Hankerson v. Green a draw, but I would give the edge to Hankerson due to his advantage in the key areas...Hankerson is a little quicker, with much bigger hands, as well as a more solid/physical body type.

PERFORMANCE:

If you look at their career performance, Green and Hankerson are fairly equal. Looking at both of their career performances when they were starters/main players, they both had a similar proportion of TDs per game and Yards per catch, etc. Performance metrics isolated down to their final college season, their numbers were also pretty similar:

Receptions per game:

  1. 6.3 = Green
  2. 5.5 = Hankerson

Yards per catch:

  1. 16.1 = Hankerson
  2. 14.9 = Green

TDs per game:

  1. 1.0 = Hankerson
  2. 1.0 = Green

Yards per game:

  1. 94.2 = Green
  2. 88.9 = Hankerson

 

Where our system starts to separate Hankerson away from Green in performance metrics is on 3 fronts, one being the impact of schedule/strength of opponent, the other is their passing system played in, and lastly an internal combination metric that brings Hankerson forth as a possible NFL elite.

SCHEDULE:

This past season, both Green and Hankerson had pretty similar performances on a per game basis. However, note that Green missed 4 games with off-field issues...3 of those missed games were against top SEC teams with winning records (So Carolina, Arkansas, Miss State). Green played in 9 games on the season, with only 3 (33%) games against teams with a winning record (and one of those was Central Florida). Also note that Green avoided both Alabama and LSU on the SEC schedule in 2010. The "he played in the SEC" argument might not be as exciting as first realized...Green kinda got off light on the strength of schedule of his opponents this season.

Hankerson played in all 13 of Miami's games, with 9 of those games (69%, or more than double of Green) against teams with a winning record...including out-of-conference games at Ohio State, at Pitt, and at Clemson.

If Green and Hankerson's performance (not considering schedule) overall was fairly similar in 2010, then Hankerson would appear to have had the tougher road to get there....which is a mark in Hankerson's favor trying to judge between them.

COMPETENCY OF OFFENSE:

Not only did Hankerson have a tougher schedule, he didn't necessarily have the best QB or Offense to work with either. A.J. Green got to work with a more efficient Aaron Murray at QB, who had a 61% Completion percentage with 24 TDs and 8 INTs in 2010.

Leonard Hankerson worked with a hodge-podge combination of QBs in 2010, in a Miami passing game that threw for a combined 54% Completion percentage overall and all Miami passers combined to throw for 21 TDs, but a disastrous 27 INTs to go with it. Hankerson achieved similar numbers to Green despite playing a tougher schedule overall and working with less talent in the passing game.

"TD PROWESS":

A unique metric we have within our system looks at a combination of historical data and statistics to judge WRs on something we call "TD Prowess". We're not going to share the details of the calculation, as it is proprietary, but it has been a very good friend to us in identifying something translatable to future NFL success. The list of "Big WRs" who have achieved a top rating in our "TD Prowess" metric to date:

  • Alexander, Danario
  • Austin, Miles
  • Bryant, Dez
  • Edwards, Braylon
  • Jackson, Vincent
  • Johnson, Calvin
  • Moss, Randy
  • Nicks, Hakeem
  • Simpson, Jerome
  • White, Roddy

Add to that now -- Leonard Hankerson, the only 2011 WR to make the elite level cut in our metric. 

SUMMARY of Hankerson v. Green

Take away all the hype, and all we've been fed by the media -- just a pure look at Hankerson vs. Green has to lead you to at least considering that Hankerson is equal to/near A.J. Green; that's at worst. At best, I propose that Leonard Hankerson is the superior WR prospect to A.J. Green. The proof of that (to me) will be that some team will take Hankerson much sooner than "the experts" expected...and that team will probably be one that we look at and think, "they did it again, how do they do it..."

 

The case for Leonard Hankerson over Julio Jones

This is tougher one for me. Our system is showing a dilemma...

I haven't published a full report on Julio Jones, so this is somewhat of a "spoiler alert"...but Julio Jones is our #2 overall "Big WR"; behind Hankerson. The dilemma is -- Julio Jones has physical measurements and metrics that are off the charts. Jones has physical characteristics that match a little Calvin Johnson and Javon Walker. Just on physical prowess alone, Julio Jones is the best WR in the 2011 NFL Draft...hands down. However, there is a problem with making the call of Jones as a guaranteed future elite WR...

The issue on Jones is, he doesn't have the college performance metrics (in our system) that translate to a future NFL elite WR. In our system he has a major, major red-flag...which is glossed over (to a degree) by his off-the-charts physical measureables. (Full report on all the Jones details, upcoming on the next WR report). Just for a quick snapshot of a piece of the issue....

WRs in their final 3 seasons of play, Games per Rec TD (games played divided by Rec TD):   *I just grabbed the first couple WR off the top to show the disparity...

  1. 1.3 = avg games played for every Rec TD...Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech
  2. 1.4 = A.J. Green, Georgia
  3. 1.5 = Leonard Hankerson, Miami
  4. 1.7 = Hakeem Nicks, UNC
  5. 2.7 = Julio Jones, Alabama (this pace would equal about 6 TDs in a 16-game NFL season)

With Julio Jones physical measureables, he should been near or above Calvin Johnson...in theory. I know Jones fans are jumping up to say, "but the Offense at Alabama was run oriented"; ummm...Calvin Johnson essentially played in a "wishbone" offense. Leonard Hankerson barely had a functioning QB to work with. There is potentially a very real problem/red-flag that Jones was not more dominant in college (again, full detailed report coming).

The question for an NFL war room is -- do you roll the dice with the upside (and risk) of a Julio Jones, or go with a more "guaranteed" thing like a Leonard Hankerson? Green has some physical translation-to-the-NFL issues in our system, and Jones has performance red-flags...Hankerson is near the top of the class both physically and performance wise. As an NFL GM, I would be very comfortable passing on the risky, expensive/high-pick WR's Jones and Green; and taking Hankerson back in the late first or early second round.

 

Leonard Hankerson as Hakeem Nicks 2.0:

You would typically like your "Big WRs" to be 6'3+, which makes sense. Hakeem Nicks is only 6'0.6" tall, but he has a nice vertical, a big wingspan, and huge hands (10.5")...not only all that, but sub 4.50 40-yard speed with high agility metrics. Nicks is not only fast and big, but he is a "tank" on the loose in the open field with a solid frame confirmed by one of the better bench press scores from the NFL Combine for WRs in the past few years. Not only is Nicks physically imposing, he had incredible performance metrics in college within our system analysis.

What we just noted (above) about Nicks, could also be said about Hankerson...with one exception -- Hankerson did not display the strength metrics of Nicks at the NFL Combine. Not that Hankerson was bad or major red-flag on it...but he is (theoretically) not as strong as Nicks. However, it is an item that he can fix/improve upon (potentially). It is the main item that holds Hankerson's rating in our system just off the 1.000+ level.

 

The NFL WR that is the best match of Leonard Hankerson in our system:

Looking at WR's under 6'3, with historically better than average speed and agility metrics along with larger hands; as well as higher college performance metrics...especially in our "TD Prowess" metric -- the best match is the aforementioned Hakeem Nicks. Brian Robiskie also has several things in common with Hankerson as well. I'm sure Hankerson would prefer the Nicks match (so far).

LEGEND FOR RATINGS:

  • SPEED = a combination of speed measurements from the NFL Combine/Pro-Days, measured against our database on similar WRs
  • AGILITY = a combination of agility test measurements from the NFL Combine/Pro-Days, measured against our database on similar WRs
  • HANDS = a combination of performance metrics and physical metrics to grade "hands" or ability to catch the ball translated ahead to the NFL. A unique/private metric of ours.
  • TD = a combination of performance metrics and physical metrics to grade "TD catching prowess", a kinda "red zone" factor translating ahead to the NFL. A unique/private metric of ours.

*school grade system, A+ being the best in class historically all the way to F- as historically the worst combination of metrics -- all based on what WRs with those measurements did (or didn't do) in the NFL.

LASTFIRSTDraft YearCOLLEGEHHW40-yHandsSpeedAgilityTD 
HankersonLeonard2011Miami, Fla61.52094.43BB+BA-
NicksHakeem2009UNC60.62124.49A+BBA+
DickersonDorin2010Pittsburgh61.82264.40C+A-BA-
RobiskieBrian2009Ohio State62.72094.47B-B-AA-

 

Leonard Hankerson Overall System Score = 0.981

* See this story for background on our system scoring methodology -- NFL Draft 2011 - In Search of the Next Great NFL WR -- a Mathematical Analysis of College WRs - Fantasy Football 2011

 

2011 NFL DRAFT Outlook for Leonard Hankerson

Currently, Hankerson is anywhere from the 4th to 8th best WR on most Mock Draft Boards I've seen. I would not be shocked for Hankerson to sneak into the late 1st Round to the Patriots, Chicago or even the NY Jets...Hankerson has bigger hands for the cold weather, plus potentially elite skill level -- which is a nice fit for teams that may be in need of a frontline WR (assuming Braylon Edwards and/or Santonio Holmes are not brought back by the Jets).

Hankerson potentially will fit the on-going theme of WRs in the NFL Draft in recent history...most of the time the best WRs are selected after the first 3 WRs are taken/off-the-board. Part of that is bad scouting (my opinion), the other part is a very good WR gets matched to a good team with a great QB...and the good WR is launched to become a great WR (statistically). Not only is Leonard Hankerson a potential "poor man's" Hakeem Nicks, but his draft story may parallel that of Nicks -- as the 4th WR selected overall, a late 1st Rounder, and a bit of a "surprise" to the Draft commentators.

 

Fantasy Football Writer R C FischerBy R.C. Fischer
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