NFL Draft 2011 ~ In Search of the Next Great NFL WR -- a Mathematical Analysis of College WRs (Part II)


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By R.C. Fischer
Release Date:
4/21/2011  Updated:  7/27/2011

In Search of the Next Great NFL WR -- a Mathematical Analysis of College WRs (Part II)

Recent History of our College "Small WR" Ratings and NFL Draft Metrics

*"Big WR" = 6'2 or taller at any weight, or 6'0 and taller + 205 pounds and greater.

*"Small WR" = under 6'2 and under 204 pounds, or under 6'0 tall no matter what.

*See the full WR Draft pick argument/research here = 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                                                                                                                                   As well as our Part I companion work rating the "Big WRs" NFL Draft 2011 - In Search of the Next Great NFL WR -- a Mathematical Analysis of College WRs - Fantasy Football 2011

Calling them "small WRs" likely isn't appropriate, but it is the best one-word example that simply conveys what we are trying to delineate ("big" vs. "small"). When I say "small", note that any of these guys could/would flatten me like a pancake in a variety of ways -- it's not meant to be demeaning as much as I am trying to convey the type of work they will likely do in the NFL. These "small" WRs are the ones more apt to be a "possession" or "short game" WR's...and/or more of a deep threat WR via big speed, not a WR who is overpowering opposing DBs and/or is a big/tall "red-zone" target. Likely there will be a WR on one list or the other (big vs. small) that someone will take umbrage with, but note that this work is an attempt to rate and locate potential future elite (or bust) WRs in the NFL as best we can define them from prior history. We want them to be judged (as fairly as possible) in their own/proper "class".

In terms of analyzing a history of college WRs we noticed a problem trying to grade all WRs the same (as they translated to the NFL). It's actually pretty simple, what makes Randy Moss (example) a great WR prospect, is much different than what makes Percy Harvin (example) a great WR prospect. When all the WR prospects hit the NFL, they are not going to be used in similar why just straight up and down judge them on one big WR list? NFL "war rooms" don't look at it this why do most in the media? The San Diego Chargers (example) sitting with Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd, are not likely as interested in the skills of a 6'4+ Jonathan Baldwin from Pittsburgh as they might be in a 5'10 "possession" WR prospect like Kentucky's Randall Cobb....because of the Chargers potential/assumed more need for a "possession WR" vs. a field stretching "Big WR".

Before we get into the names and details of our "small WR" statistical methodology and rankings -- just a quick note about the "value" of WRs in general and "small WRs", as well as their dependency upon what team/QB they are drafted onto...

I fully believe the QB makes the WR in most cases (not the other way around) -- especially for the "small WR". To me, there are only a few WR's who transcend everything (bad team, bad QB, etc) -- such as Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson, and (old school) Randy Moss. Even then, (as we have argued prior to this) elite WRs don't really seem to change a franchise's fortunes (Super Bowl wins for Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson and Randy Moss = 0). For us, the QB (as well as many other positions) is a more important factor to the franchises success.

Just to get some agitated, the best way I can put it -- (my opinion) we probably wouldn't really get too worked up about claiming Jerry Rice as the greatest WR in NFL history if he had he been drafted and maintained by the old Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals or the old Tampa Bay Buccaneers (as 2 hypothetical examples). Rice would definitely be very good, maybe even great...but I don't think he would be known as the "greatest of all time". Playing with 2 of the best QBs of all-time in Joe Montana and Steve Young is quite a boost to the already very talented Rice. A more modern day example, Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne with a weaker QB/franchise might be very nice WR's we kinda remembered...instead, teamed with Peyton Manning for a career, we will likely remember them both as Hall-of-Famers.

Before you fire off a hasty email to me about how great Jerry Rice or Marvin Harrison was...really think about it, would they have been near (statistically) great if paired with crappy QB's their entire career? Again, I'm not saying they would be bad...just not as great statistically. Larry Fitzgerald had 54% less TDs in 2010 than the season before, and 7% less receptions -- which is likely the difference of Kurt Warner and whatever was QB-ing Arizona in 2010. Fitzgerald was still very good in 2010, but his statistics tailed off with the lesser imagine a long-stretch or total career of working with Derek Anderson or Max Hall? Conversely, there are many potentially great WRs "in hiding" right now; held hostage by their QB/franchise situation (Donnie Avery is one example that comes to mind, he played 2 seasons for the Rams pre-Sam Bradford...hurt the year Bradford came in).

Exactly what NFL team that a "small WR" winds up on is monumental (for the WR), as it pertains to expected statistics and performance. With that in mind we developed our formula/regression analysis around the question -- what made the current NFL great "small WRs" great and "obvious" (mathematically) coming out of college? Obviously, not every "small WR" paired with an elite QB became an instant superstar...some failed, others excelled -- we looked at what the excel group had in common.

The study we started working a few years back began with -- what did Reggie Wayne, Greg Jennings, Wes Welker, Santana Moss, etc have in common in college with their on-field performance and also on their physical measurements/metrics? We are trying to find certain common thread(s) that run between the NFL successful "small WR" (even if successful for a short period), and what we knew of the WR prospect from college. When we show you our historical rankings that we have (from 2010 and prior) and then start reporting on 2011 projections, keep in mind we don't know what team any 2011 "small WR" will wind up; and that could take a potential future projection down in NFL reality (we will project performance looking at the talent potential mathematically + the team/QB match in our Fantasy Football Draft Guide, on sale this summer...).

Another thing I like about our mathematical approach besides finding potential future NFL WRs -- is knowing which "small WRs" to shy away from...or not to be as "high" on. As much as we use this to find potential greatness/elite, we also use it equally as much on what "small WRs" to try avoid.

I'm advancing our system for the readers to judge the validity and/or use as another tool for your draft analysis, just like our prior reports. However, when it comes to these "small WRs"...the algorithm system has been slightly more prone to error or a miss (vs. what we've seen on analyzing "big WRs" or QBs for example) -- more on what it has missed in a moment. No system is perfect, and overall we're happy with what this "small WR" mathematical system is ruling in and out (just not as happy as I am with some of our other rating outputs).

"Small WR" algorithm methodology

Again, we are not giving out the exact formulas, stats, and characteristics that we use -- that would be dumb, if it continues to prove that it can work. We're not humanitarians, we want to have information that others do not for capitalistic reasons.

We found that the statistical trends and physical characteristics that made the "small WR" great in the NFL, was different than what made the "big WR" great. There were a few things our "big" and "small" WR formula/methodology had in common, other things completely different. The main basis for the "small WR" ratings is:


Because I favor the thought process that the WR is more made by the QB, it was not shocking to me when I saw that what future elite "small WRs" had in common physically had a lot of weight in our system vs. performance metrics we looked at. A future successful "small WR" typically had to have some prototypical key physical things going for them, so that if they did land in the right spot/right team/great QB -- then that WR had the physical characteristics that would help them thrive. As well, the opposite was true...those not possessing certain key physical characteristics and metrics, were more apt to struggle translating to the NFL no matter what situation they landed in.


Physical metrics are great, but there did need to be a level of success on the field as well. We look at performance based in several ways, including style of offense/system played in. One thing that didn't register as much here (that we use a lot elsewhere) is strength of opponent...huge for QBs, fairly important for "big WRs", but not as heavy a trend with "small WRs". We analyze their final year of performance heavily, with a slight usage of overall career/prior years performances.


Our study began a few years ago  with looking for common college threads among our self-defined "small WRs" -- Wes Welker, Reggie Wayne, Greg Jennings, Steve Smith(s), just a few for example (and we validate, or adapt, as each new year of data on WR trends might emerge).


It's really hard to quantify severity of injuries, recovery times, etc. We can only deal with more known data, so injury history is not a red-flag in our equation per say, so homework would need to be done before getting excited about a WR. Hard to also quantify severity of attitudes, run-ins with the law, etc. We don't consider severity of any past injury statistically, we just look at things that we have hard data on. However, on these "small WR", we do have a small part of the overall evaluation dedicated to key physical characteristics/metrics that correlated to future potential injury/performance troubles. Injuries are a bigger issue with this group by the nature of the work they perform.


Before we look at the current output from 2010 and earlier...

A couple items of debate and conjecture before revealing the list...


You will see names on the list rated very high, maybe even scoring elite (in our system)...that never had a lick of success in the NFL. Before you jump to a quick conclusion (as I did at first) and write all this off as failed theory, take a look at the history of some of the "no-name" WRs that made our "success" list; check out there individual story/bio after they were drafted. A few of our high rated "small WRs" were thought well enough to be mid-draft NFL picks, but a major injury befell them early in their NFL career...and thus their career was over before it started or their statistical improvements were suddenly cut, yes they did little/nothing statistically for a career, but maybe they could have -- you be the judge. Specially I speak of:

  • Donnie Avery (Houston) was the 1st WR selected in the 2008 NFL Draft, and played well/OK in his first 2 seasons for the Rams...finally when Sam Bradford arrived in 2010, Avery missed out on his chance to play in a system more geared for him (with a very good QB finally) by injuring his knee in the preseason and was thus out for the entire 2010 season. Maybe he comes back to thrive in 2011, tough to say?
  • Kevin Curtis (Utah State) was drafted by the Rams and became a very good NFL WR, then signed a big contract with the Eagles in 2007 and had a great first season with the Eagles (1,110 yards, 77 rec, 6 TDs). In 2008, he had hernia surgery and in 2009 a knee surgery...and he has been looking for an opportunity since.
  • Anthony Gonzalez (Ohio State), a minor breakout year for the Colts in 2008 followed by a season ending preseason knee injury in 2009, and a PCL injury in 2010 have snuffed out a budding career (so far).
  • Arman Shields (Richmond), a 2008 Oakland Raiders selection who was missed opening camp with a knee-injury and missed all his rookie season with the injury. He was waived in 2009, and not really heard from again. I really feel bad here, I had never even really heard or thought of Arman Shields until he popped up on here, but he might have been's a shame.
  • Aundrae Allison (East Carolina), a 2007 Minnesota Vikings draft pick who was picked up off waivers in 2009 by the Jets and tore an ACL that same year, essentially stalling his career.

This is not to make excuses, but it is kinda making excuses. Upon examining some of the lesser known, or no-name, WRs that graded high on our list...I felt a little better on why some of the perceived "busts" might be on there.

Injuries with this "small WR" group is a running theme. It's possible because they are "smaller" in size that there is an issue, and/or the type of work they do (more over the middle, short passing game, more open to big hits by LBs) that they are more apt to get hurt. As well, they are more likely to be Kick and Punt Returners...higher injury positions. We do attempt to measure this likelihood and reward/penalize WRs accordingly, not huge part of the system...but a part.


The most obvious heartburn in our system to me is Wes Welker. Welker didn't miss our cutoff by a little, he missed it by a of the worst rated "small WRs" we have on our list. Along with Welker, similar WRs Danny Amendola and Jordan Shipley did not fare well either. There are a bunch of theories on it, but all I can say is -- there may be a blind spot on the Welker-type WRs. Before we kill the system, we know the system isn't going to be perfect first and secondly, I don't subscribe to Wes Welker as an elite WR (and that's very debatable). Statistically he is awesome, but I don't know how much of that to assign to him and how much to Tom Brady/Bill Belichick....especially when a former QB turned WR (Julian Edelman) can walk right in and do (essentially) the same work...although never having played WR in his life. Think that's crazy, see our 2010 article to consider this possibility *WR Wes Welker - Fantasy Football 2010 Picks and Projections

All things being equal (and no migraine headaches), I would rather have a 25-year old Percy Harvin over a 25-year old Wes Welker if I started an NFL team today, but I recognize a system projecting Wes Welker as a no-doubt bust looks (in hindsight) like a stupid system. However, I think when you look at the "small WR" group who did make the top cut -- we can say with some confidence that the system is more on target than off with a 70%+ factor of predicting success or failure. We used Welker among the group we studied and tried to model the future "elite" in our system to pick up upon...Welker just didn't have anything in common with the strong trending data that formed on the majority of the others college-to-NFL elites, so he is an outlier...and a miss for our system.

You will see names of "small WRs" that fell below our "cut" and think, "hey, they are good" -- keep in mind we are trying to find elite "small WRs", not "OK" or good every once in awhile "small WRs". Example -- Brandon Lloyd, doesn't make our cut...and Lloyd has been mediocre in the NFL for years before his one great season in 2010. Our system would have been right for his first 7 seasons, and a miss in 2010 (as I was burned downgrading him in Fantasy Football most all of 2010 while he kept producing). This "small WR" rating system has a lot more "situational" (what team, what QB, etc) variance than our other systems have produced. Again, you will be the judge of its usefulness.

Laveranues Coles and Chad (OchoCinco) Johnson are big misses as well, they obviously went on to very good NFL careers...but our mathematical formulas didn't project them that way. 2 more strikes against.

Overall, if you look at the 33 "small WRs" that projected as a future success, about 75% you could/might agree with as a "successful" or a wise "pick". The 85 other "small WRs" that didn't make the cut -- you will see some good names on there (some mentioned already), but the vast majority did not pan out or were just mediocre/OK in the NFL...about an 85% predictive rate on the downside (arguably) for the system.


Julian Edelman (Kent State QB drafted by NE to be a WR) and Armanti Edwards (Appalachian State QB drafted by Carolina to be a WR), we could not judge them for the on-field performance as WRs, as they never played WR in college. All we could do is input the physical data and we put neutral/mediocre performance stats in...but really we have no idea of their receiving skills (pre-NFL). Edelman scored below our "cut", but of what I knew of his physical metrics -- (at the time) if I thought/knew he could catch, I would take him in a heartbeat. Edelman is really one to watch, but a QB turned WR is a mild blind spot in our mathematical approach.


Percy Harvin and Dexter McCluster had more rushing attempts than receptions in college, so our system has a hard time judging their actual receiving prowess accurately. We have put an override (of sorts) into their on-field performance for the fact that they didn't play WR primarily, taking their rushing and receiving both into account. In the overall scenario, Harvin grades out high and McCluster is below our "cut line".




  • SPEED = a combination of various speed measurements, measured against our database on similar WRs
  • AGILITY = a combination of various agility test measurements, 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.
  • INJURY = an injury risk rating based on a unique/private metric of ours, as injury seems to be an issue with this group

*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.

**WRs with scores over 0.800 should be on the radar screen for very good/possible elite; and 1.000+ ratings we would pay very close attention to as a possible future elite NFL WR

***The "skill" ratings (Hands, Speed, Agility) are a few category grades we are showing, there are many more metrics and measurements considered, but we thought we'd report out on these 3 just as an FYI on the some key items the system evaluated.

****You will see most of the WRs in our database that we researched are from the last 7-8 years of Drafts, as we travel further back in time that data we need becomes harder and harder to find. We try to include WRs we have fairly reliable data on; and are adding more as time goes on.

1.162ShieldsArman 2008Richmond60.6194B+A+A+Med
1.154CurtisKevin2003Utah State511.0186BBAMed
1.129AllisonAundrae2007East Carolina60.0198A-AINCLow
1.099WayneReggie2001Miami, Fla60.0200CBINCLow
1.096GarconPierre2008Mt Union511.9210A+BB-Low
1.058JenningsGreg2006W. Michigan511.0197A+B-B+Low
0.988MossSantana2001Miami, Fla510.0181BAINCMed
0.974GonzalezAnthony2007Ohio St60.0193C-B-B+Med
0.936HolmesSantonio2006Ohio St510.6188B+BCMed
0.933OgletreeKevin2009Virginia   60.4196CBB+Med
0.906SmithSteve2001Utah  59.0184CBDMed
0.874HillJason2007Washington St60.5204BA+D+Med


0.793MurphyTerrence2005Texas A&M60.7202BA-B-Low
0.765MossSinorice2006Miami, Fla58.0185D+A+INCMed
0.716Ginn JrTed2007Ohio St511.3178BA+INCHigh
0.693TateGolden2010Notre Dame510.3199ABDLow
0.688ThomasMike2009Arizona   57.7195BB+B-Low
0.645EdelmanJulian2009Kent State510.3195BB-A+_Low
0.631HigginsJohnny Lee2007UTEP511.4186B+BC+Med
0.611McKinleyKenny2009S. Carolina60.3189B-B+BMed
0.582KnoxJohnny2009Abilene Christian511.4185C-A+BHigh
0.573ReidWillie2006Florida State510.4188DAD+Med
0.466ThorpeCro2005Florida State60.7188CA-C-Med
0.460ParrishRoscoe2005Miami, Fla59.6170C-AB-High
0.452HesterDevin2006Miami, Fla510.5190C-AC+Med
0.410RoyalEddie2008Virginia Tech59.6184D-A+DLow
0.399FigursYamon2007Kansas State511.2174D-A+CHigh
0.398NorwoodJordan2009Penn State510.7179C-CCHigh
0.389WilliamsKyle2010Arizona State510.0188BBC-High
0.383AndersonDavid2006Colorado St511.0192AC-C+Med
0.373HartlineBrian2009Ohio St61.5195DC+B+Med
0.358RichmondDavid2010San Jose St61.6197ADINCMed
0.326BerrianBernard2004Fresno State61.0183CB-DHigh
0.306EdwardsArmanti2010Appalachian St510.7185BBBMed
0.260JohnsonChad2001Oregon State61.0192CC-DMed
0.213StroughterSammie2009Oregon State59.3189BCD+Med
0.204ColesLaveranues2000Florida State511.0192FBD+Med
0.185LawrenceQuinten2009McNeese State511.5184DB+INCMed
0.158ClowneyDavid2007Virginia Tech60.0188AB+CMed
0.143AmendolaDanny2008Texas Tech511.0183CD+C+Med
0.062WelkerWes2004Texas Tech58.6195D+DC-Low
0.045ChildsJeremy2009Boise St511.5200CCCLow
0.013ButlerDeon2009Penn State510.3182CA+D+High
-0.015BloomJeremy2006Colorado  59.0173FB-INCHigh
-0.154WilliamsDerrick2009Penn State511.4194D+C-C-Med


Predicting future elite "Small WRs"

Of the 13 WRs that rated 1.000+ for us so far, there are 2 "head scratchers" that mentioned before (Allison, Shields). I think Shields may have been an elite had he been able to stay injury free, but he didn't. A success rate of 10-11 out of 13 projecting great/elite "small WRs" is in a zone we are comfortable with, no system is perfect (but we're trying).

If we had power over the NFL Draft in the last 3 years, it would have broke out as follows:

2010 = no elites to consider in our system, Donald Jones (undrafted for Buffalo) and Damian Williams (Titans 3rd Round draft pick) were close. Emmanuel Sanders and Andre Roberts were the only other 2 rated by our system as worthy to pick/showed signs of potential elites. We would have definitely shied away from the #1 "small WR" actually taken in Golden Tate.

2009 = A much better year than 2010 with Percy Harvin, Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace rated as future elites. With Austin Collie and Kevin Ogletree rated as worthy to draft...4 out of 5 "ain't bad" for our system, especially with Wallace and Collie available later in the draft. Ahead of Wallace and Collie, the Lions took our single lowest rated "small WR" to date, Derrick Williams of Penn State at pick #82. The Lions and drafting WRs is not usually a "good thing".

2008 = Arman Shields, Pierre Garcon, and Donnie Avery rated as all possible elites...with Keenan Burton and DeSean Jackson as worthy to draft. You know how we feel about Shields, and Burton has had injury issues -- but doesn't look headed for greatness. Having Donnie Avery and Pierre Garcon rated pretty equal overall is why the Bill Polian (Colts GM) is a genius and most other NFL GMs are not -- the Rams used a #33 overall pick for Avery, the Colts used pick #205 on Garcon...that's not downing Avery (who we like), it's the value and spend on the talent. Garcon was a much better pick than Avery, for where he was taken.

Looking ahead to 2011

Our individual WR summaries on a few key "small WRs" are coming out on the 2011 group over the next week.

I can tell you that there are 2 "small WRs" rated from the 2011 class that we have as possible elites (rated 1.000+). One of the two names, most "draftniks" will recognize and he is typically a Top 5 rated WR overall by the mainstream...the other of our 2 WR's might make you pay attention to Day-3 of the NFL Draft to see if your teams lands he is not among any top-20 WR draft lists I've seen, and will likely be a potential elite available to your team for a 5th-7th Round pick (one respected national media draft list I just looked at, he wasn't even in the top 40 WRs).

As well, there are 2 major mistakes (according to our system) coming -- highly rated "small WRs" that are going to be taken fairly high and project (in our system) to be potential stay tuned this upcoming week.

The NFL season schedules are out and the NFL Draft is almost upon us, so the computers are geared up to start running analysis on projecting players and situations for 2011 -- our 2011 Fantasy Football Draft Guide on sale this summer (even if you don't play Fantasy Football you might really enjoy this work) with 400+ players evaluated statistically for the upcoming season!

Our Fantasy Football Draft Guide is EVER-EVOLVING !!!! Not like a stale magazine with outdated data by the time it arrives on newsstands, and is obsolete when the next big injury or personnel move is made -- we update our player projections and commentary as often as daily (sometimes multiple times daily if news warrants it)...we work just like your own personal "war room" right up to Draft Day (see home page for clips of some of last years work) and you can access the e-Guide "at will" with your initial purchase.


Fantasy Football Writer R C FischerBy R.C. Fischer
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