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28 Mar 2016

Playmaker Score 2016

by Nathan Forster

Anyone who doubts that advanced statistics can provide insight into the potential success of NFL draft prospects should look back at last year's Playmaker Score projections from Football Outsiders. Entering the 2015 NFL draft, most observers saw a close, three-way race for the title of the best receiver in the class between Amari Cooper, Kevin White, and DeVante Parker. However, Playmaker Score thought that Cooper was clearly the top wide receiver prospect of 2015. It also identified an injury-prone late-round afterthought named Stefon Diggs as a prospect so promising that he was in striking distance of both White and Parker, even after factoring in those players' much stronger ratings from scouts.

There's still plenty of time for these players' careers to develop, but early returns suggest that Playmaker Score got it right. Cooper led all rookie wide receivers with 1,070 yards and Diggs, playing on the run-first Minnesota Vikings, managed a strong second place with 720 receiving yards. On the other side, though Parker came on strong at the end of the season, he finished just sixth among rookie wide receivers in receiving yards. The jury's still out on White, who missed his entire rookie year on injured reserve.

There is no guarantee that Playmaker Score will be as accurate in 2016 as it seems to have been in 2015. Nevertheless, it would be foolish to write last year off as mere statistical gobbledygook.

Playmaker Score is based on a statistical analysis of all Division I wide receivers drafted in the years 1996-2013. Playmaker Score consists of the following elements, which are the factors that historically correlate to NFL success:

  • The wide receiver prospect's best or "peak" season for receiving yards per team attempt (i.e., a wide receiver with 1,000 receiving yards whose team passed 400 times would score a "2.50.")
  • The wide receiver prospect's peak season for receiving touchdowns per team attempt.
  • The difference between the prospect's peak season for receiving touchdowns per team attempt and the prospect's most recent season for receiving touchdowns per team attempt (this factor is simply "0" for a player whose peak season was his most recent season).
  • The wide receiver's vertical jump from pre-draft workouts.
  • A binary variable that rewards players who enter the draft as underclassmen and punishes those who exhaust their college eligibility.
  • The wide receiver's college career yards per reception.
  • The wide receiver's rushing attempts per game during their peak season for receiving yards per team attempt.

Playmaker Score has two outputs: "Playmaker Rating" and "Playmaker Projection." Playmaker Rating is the "purest" output for Playmaker Score: it is expressed as a percentage that measures how highly the player ranks historically based on the factors evaluated by Playmaker Score. For example, a player with a 75 percent Playmaker Rating scores more highly than 75 percent of wide receiver prospects drafted since 1996. Playmaker Projection is a more realistic measurement. Playmaker Projection acknowledges that a player with a first-round grade and a mediocre Playmaker Score is more likely to succeed than a seventh-rounder that Playmaker Score loves. Thus, in addition to the Playmaker Score factors, Playmaker Projection also incorporates a transformed variable based on the player's projected draft position from NFLDraftScout.com.

Here are the Playmaker Scores for the top wide receiver prospects available in the 2016 NFL draft.

Corey Coleman, Baylor

Playmaker Projection: 820 Yards
Playmaker Rating: 99.8%

Corey Coleman has a monster projection. As a junior, Coleman gained 1,363 receiving yards and caught an eye-popping 20 touchdowns. Because Baylor only passed the ball 389 times in 2016, Coleman scored a touchdown on 5.1 percent of Baylor's passes. That's an incredible ratio, which has only been topped by four elite college players: Randy Moss, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, and Larry Fitzgerald. Coleman also tested out well physically, posting a position-best 40.5-inch vertical jump at the NFL combine.

Notwithstanding these numbers, there are certainly legitimate concerns regarding Coleman's ability to transition to the NFL level. Coleman played in Art Briles' run-first offense at Baylor, which saw Coleman mostly run simple go, in, and hitch patterns. In that regard, Coleman is potentially similar to Stephen Hill. Hill was highly regarded by Playmaker Score, but he was a tremendous bust.

There are reasons to believe that Coleman could succeed where Hill failed. First, Hill had relatively unimpressive aggregate statistics. Hill caught 28 passes for 820 yards and five touchdowns in his best season at Georgia Tech. However, he had great rate statistics because Georgia Tech attempted only 167 passes that year. Coleman, on the other hand, caught 74 passes for 1,363 yards and 20 touchdowns -- numbers that look good even before you adjust for team pass attempts. Moreover, Coleman's offense was run-heavy, but not to the same extreme as Hill's: Baylor passed 389 times in 2015.

Indeed, historically, wide receiver prospects from run-heavy offenses have been no less successful than those from more balanced offenses. The same offense that produced Hill also produced Demaryius Thomas, who has been quite good. Similarly, Marvin Harrison hailed from a run-heavy offense than only passed 210 times.

Another tempting comparison involves Kendall Wright, a former Baylor wide receiver and first-round pick. The comparison only goes so far, however. Wright, unlike Coleman, entered the draft as a senior, and he did not hit 1,000 yards in a season during any of his first three years. Unlike Wright, Coleman was not a one-hit wonder -- he posted strong numbers as a sophomore too -- and his touchdown numbers (which are more predictive of success than yardage totals) were much better than Wright's. Moreover, even if we could make a good comparison between Coleman and Wright, that comparison itself would not be particularly helpful given Wright's career to date. Nobody will confuse Wright with Odell Beckham Jr., but he has been far from an out-and-out bust. Wright's time in the NFL has been marred by injuries and shaky quarterback play on a bad team, and he has still managed to put up some decent receiving numbers.

The bottom line is that you could fairly argue that Coleman is the second coming of Jerry Rice, another Stephen Hill, or anything in between. There is simply no way to quantify the amount, if any, that Baylor's offense contributed to Coleman's ridiculous numbers. Although Coleman's Playmaker Projection is higher than Amari Cooper's projection last year, Coleman is certainly a much riskier prospect. That said, mid-first-round picks bust all the time, and a team in need of a wide receiver could do a lot worse than to select a player whose numbers suggest potential greatness.

Will Fuller, Notre Dame

Playmaker Projection: 514 Yards
Playmaker Rating: 94.5%

Will Fuller may have made headlines for his blazing 4.32-second 40-yard dash, but Playmaker Score is more interested in his strong receiving numbers in the relatively low-volume Notre Dame passing offense. Fuller scored 29 receiving touchdowns in his last two seasons at Notre Dame and recorded an impressive 17.4 yards per catch. Scouts may be concerned that Fuller has a relatively slight build, but size is highly overrated at the wide receiver position. Great wide receivers have come in all shapes and sizes; what matters is production.

Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina

Playmaker Projection: 493 Yards
Playmaker Rating: 89.5%

Historically, wide receivers with a high number of rushing attempts in college tend to also have low yards per reception numbers, because these receivers are likely to be involved in the short passing game as well. Although high numbers of rushing attempts and high yards per reception numbers correlate to NFL success, few wide receivers have both. Pharoh Cooper bucks this trend. Cooper posted an impressive 15.7 yards per catch, even while rushing the football more than 60 times for the Gamecocks in his final season.

Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh

Playmaker Projection: 486 Yards
Playmaker Rating: 89.9%

Tyler Boyd has the highest receiving yards per team attempt of this class. However, his touchdown numbers, which are more predictive of future success, were good but not great, and he had a slight drop-off in his touchdowns per team attempt from his sophomore to his junior year. Boyd also has a relatively pedestrian 13.2 yards per catch career average, though that is offset by his high number of rushing attempts.

Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss

Playmaker Projection: 479 Yards
Playmaker Rating: 69.5%

Laquon Treadwell is the consensus No. 1 wide receiver in this draft amongst draftniks. Playmaker Score, however, disagrees. Even factoring his status as sure first-round pick, Playmaker Score ranks him as only the fifth best receiver available. So why is Treadwell's Playmaker so low?

First, Treadwell's rate statistics are not particularly impressive. Treadwell's best season was his junior year, when he recorded 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns. Those are certainly fine numbers for a college wide receiver, but fall short of the numbers most highly drafted NFL wide receivers produce. For example, Amari Cooper produced 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns in his final season, even though his team passed less than Treadwell's team did. As another example, Nelson Agholor, who was considered only a fringe first-round prospect, put up 1,313 yards and 12 touchdowns in his final season on a team that also passed less than Treadwell's.

Treadwell's career yards per reception is also a below-average 11.8 yards per catch, although that number did improve as his college career progressed. Possession receivers in college rarely pan out in the NFL, and Treadwell did not have the rushing attempts that would mark him as the kind of "jack of all trades" wide receiver that sometimes succeeds in the NFL despite low yards per reception numbers.

Playmaker Score likes that Treadwell is coming out as a junior, but he is poised to have one of the worst projections ever for a first-round underclassman. Assuming that Treadwell is drafted in the first round, the list of first-round underclassmen wide receivers with the worst projections would be Jon Baldwin, Cordarrelle Patterson, Treadwell, Anthony Gonzalez, and Yatil Green.

Rashard Higgins, Colorado State

Playmaker Projection: 476 Yards
Playmaker Rating: 89.5%

Historically, wide receivers from lesser Division I conferences have fared no worse than their counterparts from the Power 5, and Higgins put up great numbers as a sophomore that reveal his potential: 96 receptions for 1,750 yards and 17 touchdowns. Higgins, however, is far from guaranteed to break out. Higgins has a similar projection to Antonio Brown, who became a star despite being drafted in the sixth round, but is also similar to players such as Dante Ridgeway, Dez White, and Jarett Dillard, who all had strong numbers in college but did not realize their potential in the NFL.

Michael Thomas, Ohio State

Playmaker Projection: 463 Yards
Playmaker Rating: 80.4%

Playmaker Score probably underrates Michael Thomas because the Buckeyes divided their relatively small passing game (only 325 attempts in 2015) among many talented pass catchers. Indeed, nearly all of Ohio State's receiving corps -- Thomas, Braxton Miller, and Jalin Marshall -- received invitations to the NFL combine. A known issue with Playmaker Score is that it potentially underrates wide receiver prospects who come from college teams that are truly rich with NFL talent, and we are working to potentially adjust for this in the future. Despite the wealth of receiving talent on the Buckeyes, Thomas managed to score a touchdown on 2.7 percent of the Ohio State Buckeyes' pass attempts.

Josh Doctson, TCU

Playmaker Projection: 409 Yards
Playmaker Rating: 70.8%

Doctson's numbers are similar to Will Fuller's. However, there is one important difference between the two prospects: Fuller posted his numbers as a junior and enters the draft as an underclassman, while Doctson enters the draft as a senior. Senior wide receivers fail at a much greater rate than their junior counterparts. The four least productive wide receivers drafted in the first round from 1996-2013 were all seniors (A.J. Jenkins, Rashaun Woods, R. Jay Soward, and Marcus Nash), even though most of the first-round picks over this time period were underclassmen.

Leonte Carroo, Rutgers

Playmaker Projection: 333 Yards
Playmaker Rating: 74.7%

Carroo was the big-play artist for run-first Rutgers. His 19.5 yards per reception were better than any other Division I wide receiver invited to the NFL combine this year. However, Carroo only topped 1,000 receiving yards once in his college career and enters the draft as a senior.

Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma

Playmaker Projection: 328 Yards
Playmaker Rating: 71.0%

Sterling Sheppard had an impressive NFL combine performance. However, like Carroo, he enters the NFL draft as a senior. Most of his receiving numbers in college were a little worse than Carroo's, and his yards per reception rate was much worse. Sheppard will probably be overdrafted by a team that overvalues players from large programs in competitive conferences.

Below is a chart of the Playmaker Projection and Playmaker Rating for every Playmaker-eligible Division I wide receiver in the 2016 NFL draft that received an invitation to the NFL combine. The chart does not include Ohio State's Braxton Miller because Miller was not rostered as a wide receiver for a full season, and thus is not included in Playmaker Score (Playmaker Score's database does not include similar players in the past, such as former Jacksonville Jaguars first-round pick Matt Jones from Arkansas).


2016 Playmaker Score Results
Name College Proj. Round Playmaker Projection Playmaker Rating
Corey Coleman Baylor 1 820 99.8%
Will Fuller Notre Dame 1–2 514 94.7%
Pharoh Cooper South Carolina 2 493 89.5%
Tyler Boyd Pittsburgh 2 486 89.9%
Laquon Treadwell Mississippi 1 479 69.5%
Rashard Higgins Colorado State 2–3 476 89.5%
Michael Thomas Ohio State 2 463 80.4%
Josh Doctson TCU 1–2 409 70.8%
Leonte Carroo Rutgers 3 333 74.7%
Sterling Shepard Oklahoma 2–3 328 71.0%
Roger Lewis Bowling Green 4 323 84.0%
Bralon Addison Oregon 3–4 315 78.2%
De'Runnya Wilson Mississippi State 6 266 51.2%
Demarcus Ayers Houston 7–UDFA 263 79.6%
Name College Proj. Round Playmaker Projection Playmaker Rating
Kenny Lawler California 3 252 49.2%
Keyarris Garrett Tulsa 3–4 226 47.5%
Aaron Burbridge Michigan State 3–4 195 24.4%
Cayleb Jones Arizona 7–UDFA 194 56.7%
Malcolm Mitchell Georgia 4 157 26.2%
Michael Thomas Southern Miss. 6 137 58.7%
Ricardo Louis Auburn 7 115 56.0%
Jalin Marshall Ohio State 7–UDFA 115 60.4%
Demarcus Robinson Florida 5–6 112 62.4%
Tajae Sharpe Massachusetts 4–5 109 14.3%
Kolby Listenbee TCU 3–4 106 18.7%
Hunter Sharp Utah State UDFA 84 32.3%
Jordan Payton UCLA 3 81 13.6%
Chris Moore Cincinnati UDFA 67 37.8%
Name College Proj. Round Playmaker Projection Playmaker Rating
Devon Cajuste Stanford 7–UDFA 46 25.7%
Byron Marshall Oregon UDFA 29 23.7%
Charone Peake Clemson 4–5 24 3.3%
Marquez North Tennessee UDFA 21 25.3%
Chris Brown Notre Dame 7 21 7.7%
Nelson Spruce Colorado 7–UDFA 14 13.4%
Alonzo Russell Toledo 7–UDFA 12 10.5%
Geronimo Allison Illinois 6 6 3.7%
Mekale McKay Cincinnati UDFA 0 15.2%
D'haquille Williams Auburn UDFA 0 5.7%
Trevor Davis California UDFA 0 9.2%
Johnny Holton Cincinnati UDFA 0 5.1%
Cody Core Mississippi 5 0 4.6%
Rashawn Scott Miami (FL) UDFA 0 3.7%

(Ed. Note: A shortened version of this article originally appeared on ESPN Insider.)

Posted by: Nathan Forster on 28 Mar 2016

15 comments, Last at 28 Mar 2017, 3:39am by Mr Skinner

Comments

1
by Travis :: Mon, 03/28/2016 - 4:03pm

Coleman played in Art Briles' run-first offense at Baylor, which saw Coleman mostly run simple go, in, and hitch patterns.

I wouldn't call Briles's normal offense run-first. Baylor's high run-pass ratio in 2015 was a factor of a few things, among them 1) blowing out a bunch of mediocre opponents in the early season by halftime, so that the second halves were mostly runs with the second unit; 2) a playbook that didn't lend itself to red zone passes; 3) a string of quarterback injuries that led to Week 1's punt returner playing quarterback in December; and 4) a game against TCU played in a torrential downpour. By the end of the season their passing offense was down to a bunch of quick screens.

2
by Dan :: Mon, 03/28/2016 - 9:10pm

I am curious what Carroo's Playmaker Score & Rating would be if you pro-rated his stats for this season. He only played 8 of Rutgers's 12 games, and in the games that he played he averaged 101 yards/game, 3.64 yards per team attempt, and a TD on 4.5% of his team's passes. All three are near the top of this draft class.

I suspect that a player's stats in the games that he plays are a better reflection of his NFL potential than his stats for the full season. A 39/809/10 stat line in 8 games (with 4 games missed) is far more impressive than a 39/809/10 stat line spread across 12 games. If historical data says otherwise, then that's probably just random noise (based on a small sample size of players who missed games) and fitting a model to that pattern would be overfitting.

Last year the same issue came up with Parker.

3
by mehllageman56 :: Tue, 03/29/2016 - 1:53pm

I was really turned off Corey Coleman when I watched tape from last season, because he only runs patterns every other play or so. If the ball wasn't going to his side, he'd jog. I've read that Briles expects the receivers to take plays off because they run a fast paced offense, but I don't remember encountering this with other teams running high octane offenses. I watched a lot of Geno Smith's footage, and I think everyone there ran patterns every play. I never noticed this when watching Bryce Petty's tape from last year's Baylor team either.

5
by joe football :: Wed, 03/30/2016 - 8:00am

It's absolutely a tactical thing with Baylor and you can find plenty of gifs/footage of a bunch of guys jogging around on any given play

Half of your eligible receivers walking around aimlessly is clearly the future of football

6
by mehllageman56 :: Wed, 03/30/2016 - 8:50am

I realize it's a tactical thing with Baylor, and not Coleman's fault, but I have to wonder about the stamina of receivers coming out of Baylor, opposed to other teams. Again, I didn't notice this with Bailey and Austin when looking at West Virginia film a couple of years ago, and I didn't notice it looking at footage from the top draftees last year. I also noticed at least one long touchdown where Coleman pretended to be loafing and then burst open deep. That worked in college, not sure how well it will work in the pros.

7
by Alex51 :: Wed, 03/30/2016 - 12:39pm

I'm not saying that your assessment is wrong, but similar criticisms were leveled at Randy Moss early in his NFL career. Now, whether Coleman has the talent to succeed in the NFL without going full speed on every play is an open question. But it wouldn't be unprecedented.

4
by irishgsutony :: Tue, 03/29/2016 - 10:47pm

Seems like fools gold to trust numbers playing against thosee candy ass defenses in the big 12. Colemans numbers would have been about half of that in the SEC

14
by collapsing pocket :: Mon, 04/18/2016 - 2:20pm

The same SEC that let Treadwell beat them so frequently? Though to be fair, the defenses were probably tired from chasing backs like Henry and Fournette up and down the field.

8
by Tomlin_Is_Infallible :: Wed, 03/30/2016 - 3:52pm

"Coleman also tested out well physically, posting a position-best 40.5-inch vertical jump at the NFL combine."

In what alternate universe did this happen?

--------------------------------------
The standard is the standard!

9
by Vincent Verhei :: Wed, 03/30/2016 - 4:35pm

Coleman's official combine page lists his vertical jump at 40.5 inches and labels him a "top performer."

http://www.nfl.com/combine/profiles/corey-coleman?id=2555333

However, their overall rankings lists two wide receivers (Josh Doctson and Sterling Shepard) with 41.0-inch vertical leaps.

http://www.nfl.com/combine/tracker#day=monday

10
by lightsout85 :: Wed, 03/30/2016 - 6:50pm

They put that for any mark that ranks in the top 10 (or however many) in each event, not necessarily thee top mark.

11
by Brendan Scolari :: Thu, 03/31/2016 - 9:57am

Playmaker Score doesn't count redshirt seasons? Corey Coleman redshirted. I would think he should be counted as a senior, given that if he had caught a few receptions that first year instead of redshirting his projection would be a lot worse despite no tangible change to him as a prospect.

12
by justanothersteve :: Thu, 03/31/2016 - 12:55pm

I wonder if actual age should be factored rather than year in school. Along with redshirt years, some players attend prep school to improve grades/ test scores.

13
by TheSportistician :: Sun, 04/17/2016 - 10:34am

As I understand that variable, it's more about capturing that Coleman *chose* to enter the draft (rather than being forced too enter). Clearly players who chose to enter the draft are going to be stronger (on average) than those that had no choice, though there may be exceptions (players with exceptional performance/peak year during last year of eligibility).

15
by Mr Skinner :: Tue, 03/28/2017 - 3:39am

Too early to call but so far it does seem playmaker is overall right in that this is an underwhelming crop of players.