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05 Apr 2017

Playmaker Score 2017

by Nathan Forster

The 2014 NFL draft may turn out to be one of the deepest wide receiver drafts in league history. In addition to boasting top end talent like Odell Beckham Jr. and Mike Evans, the 2014 draft produced a small army of pass catchers who at one point or another have made significant contributions to their teams, including Jarvis Landry, Brandin Cooks, Allen Robinson, Jordan Matthews, Sammy Watkins, Kelvin Benjamin, Davante Adams, and Martavis Bryant.

Although the 2017 NFL draft may lack elite wide receivers such as Beckham and Evans, it may turn out to have even more depth than the much ballyhooed 2014 class. According to Playmaker Score -- Football Outsiders' system for projecting college wide receivers to the professional level -- there is plenty of wide receiver talent available even in the mid- to late rounds.

Playmaker Score is based on a statistical analysis of all Division I wide receivers drafted between 1996 and 2014. 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 who 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 2017 NFL draft, plus one notable mid-round receiver with a poor projection.

John Ross, Washington

Playmaker Projection: 694 Yards
Playmaker Rating: 96.9%

John Ross made his mark on NFL draft coverage by running a record 4.22-second 40-yard dash, but the hoopla around his combine performance distracts from the fact that Ross had a strong career as a wide receiver for the Washington Huskies. Ross scored a touchdown on more than four percent of all of the Huskies' pass attempts in 2016. Ross was also somewhat involved in the running game, averaging approximately one rushing attempt every two games, which further boosts his projection. Ross is a bit of a one-hit wonder because he had less than 600 career receiving yards before exploding with 1,150 yards as a junior. However, there is a long history of successful NFL wide receivers, such as Terry Glenn or Brandon Marshall, doing even less than Ross did early in their college careers before breaking out as juniors.

Corey Davis, Western Michigan

Playmaker Projection: 669 Yards
Playmaker Rating: 90.6%

Playmaker Score includes a significant penalty for players who enter the draft as seniors because underclassmen typically enjoy much more success than their more experienced counterparts. The fact that Corey Davis is Playmaker Score's second-highest wide receiver despite this penalty speaks to how dominant Davis was for the Western Michigan Broncos. Significantly, Davis caught a touchdown on more than five percent of his team's passes as a senior. Only seven of the 500-plus wide receivers drafted since 1996 can say the same: Randy Moss, Dez Bryant, Larry Fitzgerald, Terry Glenn, Torry Holt, Andre' Davis, and last year's Corey Coleman.

Curtis Samuel, Ohio State

Playmaker Projection: 565 Yards
Playmaker Rating: 97.4%

Curtis Samuel is a somewhat unusual prospect whose relatively positive projection comes exclusively from his use in the running game. Samuel had 74 rushing attempts as a junior, making him one of the most run-heavy wide receivers who Playmaker Score has ever evaluated (topped only by running back-turned-wide receiver Dexter McCluster). Intuitively, one might think that these college "gadget" players would struggle to perform as conventional wide receivers at the NFL level, but prospects similar to Samuel have enjoyed a moderate level of success. The top four wide receivers in Playmaker Score's rushing attempt metric are McCluster, Tavon Austin, Percy Harvin, and Randall Cobb. None of these players are likely Hall of Famers, but all have been considerably more successful than the average drafted wide receiver.

On the other hand, because it is unusual for a wide receiver prospect to have such a high number of rushing attempts, there are reasons to doubt Samuel's high Playmaker Rating. Because there are so few wide receivers with 50-plus rushing attempts in a season, there is no way to verify whether there are diminishing returns for the extra rushing attempts. It may be the case that a wide receiver with 50 rushing attempts is not much more likely to succeed than one with 75 rushing attempts, but we have no way to measure if that is the case because wide receivers with such high rushing attempts are so rare. Moreover, there is anecdotal evidence to support the "diminishing returns" hypothesis because the closest recent analogue to Samuel is Tavon Austin, who has thus far dramatically underperformed his Playmaker projection. Thus, although the numbers support drafting Samuel, one might be wise to be skeptical of the numbers in this instance.

Carlos Henderson, Louisiana Tech

Playmaker Projection: 541 Yards
Playmaker Rating: 97.4%

If you are looking for what may be Playmaker's most controversial call for the Class of 2017, look no further than its ranking of Carlos Henderson over Clemson's Mike Williams, whom many consider to be the top receiver available in this draft. In short, Playmaker thinks Henderson is likely to be the better player than Williams (although by a relatively small margin), even though Williams is much more highly rated by pre-draft prognosticators.

Henderson scores reasonably well in all of Playmaker Score's metrics -- he caught plenty of touchdowns, gained plenty of yards, entered the draft as an underclassman, and even contributed to the running game. However, Henderson's strongest metric is his explosive 19.6 yards per catch.

Another factor that is not included in the projections might also slightly militate towards a strong outlook for Henderson. Henderson competed with teammate Trent Taylor, who is a draftable prospect himself, for passes. Because Playmaker's metrics are based on how much attention the prospect received within his own passing game in college, it likely underrates players who had to compete with NFL-caliber prospects on their own teams. The best example of this dynamic is Reggie Wayne and Santana Moss, who had relatively low Playmaker projections because they played on the 1998 Miami Hurricanes together and had to compete not only with each other for passes, but also with future Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey. We are fairly certain that competition with other NFL-level prospects affects a prospect's Playmaker Score, but unfortunately have not yet come up with a practical (and statistically significant) way to measure it.

Mike Williams, Clemson

Playmaker Projection: 514 Yards
Playmaker Rating: 70.9%

Although Playmaker Score likes the 2017 draft class generally, it is a bit down on Mike Williams, whom many draftniks consider to be the top wide receiver available. Williams simply does not stand out relative to his peers in any of Playmaker's metrics. Typically, larger wide receivers like Williams boost their Playmaker Scores by catching touchdown after touchdown, but in 2016 Williams had only 11 touchdowns even though Clemson was a fairly pass-happy offense. Moreover, Williams did not have a single rushing attempt during his career, and his yards per catch numbers were just average.

That said, Williams is still an "above-average" wide receiver prospect. Williams' problem, however, is that a wide receiver drafted in the first round scores typically scores an 80.0 percent or better Playmaker Rating. Williams, by contrast, barely scores a 70.0 percent. Although that may not sound like a large difference, it is significant in a draft as deep at wide receiver as this one. There are stronger prospects in the second round, not to mention several better risk/reward propositions in the mid- to late rounds.

Chris Godwin, Penn State

Playmaker Projection: 487 Yards
Playmaker Rating: 87.0%

Chris Godwin has one distinct advantage over many of the other wide receiver prospects available in the fourth round -- Godwin enters the draft as an underclassman. Although Godwin's numbers are not particularly impressive without context -- 982 yards receiving and 11 touchdowns in 2016 -- he is only a junior. Plenty of wide receivers, such as Mike Wallace and Donte Stallworth, were good but not great as juniors, entered the draft, and blossomed once they reached the NFL.

DeDe Westbrook, Oklahoma

Playmaker Projection: 440 Yards
Playmaker Rating: 93.7%

DeDe Westbrook has similar Playmaker numbers to Corey Davis, its other favorite 2017 senior wide receiver prospect. Westbrook scored touchdowns at a slightly lower rate than Davis, but has more yards per team attempt, rushing attempts, and more yards per reception. Indeed, you might even seek to excuse Westbrook's failure to come out early because he spent his first two years of eligibility in junior college. You could make a decent argument that Playmaker Score's junior/senior adjustment is overly harsh on junior college transfers, and there is some precedent for similar players outperforming their projections.

The big advantage that Davis holds over Westbrook -- which is likely to be at least partially the cause of Westbrook's lower expected draft position -- is size. Davis is 6-foot-3 at 209 pounds and Westbrook is only 6-foot-0 at 178 pounds. There have been some players (although not a lot) who have been as light as Westbrook and have been successful, such as Roddy White and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Southern California

Playmaker Projection: 425 Yards
Playmaker Rating: 80.3%

JuJu Smith-Schuster declared that he "is the top receiver in this class." Playmaker Score, along with most draftniks, believes that to be an overstatement, but Smith-Schuster could nevertheless be a good addition in the third round. Smith-Schuster had a nice sophomore season where he caught 89 passes for 1,454 yards and ten touchdowns, which is all the more impressive considering that he broke his hand halfway through the season.

Jalen Robinette, Air Force

Playmaker Projection: 409 Yards
Playmaker Rating: 97.8%

Jalen Robinette has a great projection, especially considering that NFL Draft Scout projects him to be an undrafted free agent. Robinette's 959 receiving yards and six touchdowns in 2016 may not be impressive in absolute terms, but he had monster rate statistics because Air Force only attempted 150 passes in the 2016 season. As a result, Robinette averaged 6.39 yards per team attempt. To put that in number in perspective, no other wide receiver in this draft class averages as much as 4.00 yards per team attempt.

However, there is good reason to actually trust the scouts over the numbers when it comes to Robinette. For one, there have been a few recent wide receivers who fit Robinette's statistical profile -- great per-attempt receiving statistics in unusually run-heavy offense -- and Playmaker Score was too optimistic regarding many of them. Playmaker Score loved Stephen Hill, for example, and Hill turned out to be an amazing bust. On the other hand, Demaryius Thomas, who similarly had great rate statistics but average absolute numbers, became an NFL star. Unlike Thomas, however, Robinette is not graded as a first-round pick, but as a late-round afterthought, so it seems more likely than not that Robinette will significantly underperform his Playmaker Score projection. That said, a team sitting in the seventh round would not be crazy to spend their late pick on Robinette on the chance that Playmaker Score's numbers are actually right about him.

Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky

Playmaker Projection: 407 Yards
Playmaker Rating: 79.1%

One of Playmaker's lessons is that wide receivers from non-powerhouse schools are often underrated. In that regard, Taywan Taylor could be a pleasant surprise for some team looking for a wide receiver in the third round. Taylor's yards per team attempt and yards per reception are among the best in this class, his touchdown rate is above average, and he even added a few rushing attempts to give his projection a boost. Playmaker downgrades him considerably because he came out of college as a senior, but that should be less concerning for a player from Conference USA, because senior success stories are likelier to come from lower-profile programs.

Zay Jones, East Carolina

Playmaker Projection: 286 Yards
Playmaker Rating: 37.6%

According to Playmaker Score, Zay Jones is the most overrated wide receiver prospect in this class. Jones' weakest point is a low average of 10.7 yards per reception. Possession receivers in college tend not to succeed in the NFL, even as possession receivers. College wide receivers with lower yards per reception numbers can succeed in the NFL, but they tend to be "gadget" wide receivers who are heavily involved in the running game. Jones had only four rushing attempts in 2016, which is not an unusually low level for a pro prospect, but certainly well below where he would need to be to make up ground for his low yards per reception. Jones also did not find the end zone much for a top wide receiver prospect. He caught only eight touchdowns as a senior even though his team attempted an above-average 554 passes. It's worth noting that Jones' Playmaker Projection listed here is almost 100 yards per season lower than what was listed in the ESPN Insider version of Playmaker Score because Scouts Inc. (associated with ESPN) rates Jones higher than NFL Draft Scout.

Below is a chart of the Playmaker Projection and Playmaker Rating for every Playmaker-eligible Division I wide receiver in the 2017 NFL draft who received an invitation to the NFL combine.

Playmaker Score, 2017 NFL Draft Wide Receiver Prospects
Name College Proj. Round Playmaker Projection Playmaker Rating
John Ross Washington 1 694 96.9%
Corey Davis Western Michigan 1 669 90.6%
Curtis Samuel Ohio State 2 565 97.4%
Carlos Henderson Louisiana Tech 2.5 541 97.4%
Mike Williams Clemson 1 514 70.9%
Chris Godwin Penn State 2 487 87.0%
Dede Westbrook Oklahoma 4 440 93.7%
JuJu Smith-Schuster Southern California 2.5 425 80.3%
Jalen Robinette Air Force UDFA 409 97.8%
Taywan Taylor W. Kentucky 3 407 79.1%
ArDarius Stewart Alabama 2.5 377 73.4%
Isaiah Ford Virginia Tech 3.5 375 85.0%
Malachi Dupre LSU 3 353 80.5%
Chad Hansen California 3 317 67.9%
Josh Reynolds Texas A&M 5 303 83.9%
Josh Malone Tennessee 5.5 294 78.5%
Shelton Gibson West Virginia 5 293 81.7%
Name College Proj. Round Playmaker Projection Playmaker Rating
K.D. Cannon Baylor 6 292 86.4%
Isaiah McKenzie Georgia 4.5 287 77.4%
Kenny Golladay Northern Illinois 4 286 71.3%
Zay Jones East Carolina 2.5 286 37.6%
Travis Rudolph Florida State 4.5 248 63.8%
Amara Darboh Michigan 3 233 29.9%
Noah Brown Ohio State 4 211 49.0%
Jerome Lane Akron UDFA 200 78.5%
Artavis Scott Clemson 5 197 50.6%
Amba Etta-Tawo Syracuse 5.5 188 44.7%
Keevan Lucas Tulsa 7-UDFA 181 61.8%
Trent Taylor Louisiana Tech 7-UDFA 134 44.3%
Ryan Switzer North Carolina 4.5 132 13.8%
Rodney Adams South Florida 7 126 38.6%
Fred Ross Mississippi State 7-UDFA 123 42.9%
Stacy Coley Miami 5 121 17.9%
Robert Davis Georgia State 6 106 37.2%
Name College Proj. Round Playmaker Projection Playmaker Rating
Travin Dural LSU 7-UDFA 86 33.7%
Noel Thomas Connecticut UDFA 82 32.1%
Devante Noil Texas A&M UDFA 80 57.1%
Johnathan Howard North Carolina 6.5 70 22.8%
Keon Hatcher Arkansas UDFA 55 23.8%
Michael Rector Stanford 7 53 22.0%
Jehu Chesson Michigan 7-UDFA 39 20.5%
Mack Hollins North Carolina UDFA 38 26.8%
Drew Morgan Arkansas UDFA 29 12.2%
Gabe Marks Washington State 7-UDFA 14 4.9%
Victor Bolden Oregon State UDFA 11 10.6%
James Quick Louisville UDFA 8 8.9%
Jamari Staples Louisville 7-UDFA 0 8.9%
Levonte Whitfield Florida State UDFA 0 7.1%
Quincy Adeboyejo Mississippi 7-UDFA 0 3.3%
Jesus Wilson Florida State UDFA 0 3.3%
Darreus Rogers Southern California 7-UDFA 0 0.0%
Ricky Seals-Jones Texas A&M UDFA 0 0.0%

Here is a list of prior Playmaker projections:

Portions of this article originally appeared on ESPN Insider.

Posted by: Nathan Forster on 05 Apr 2017

23 comments, Last at 09 Apr 2017, 11:24pm by LionInAZ

Comments

1
by MilkmanDanimal :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 1:08pm

10.7 yards per catch?

I thought Laquon Treadwell not making it to 12 yards/catch in college was bad enough, but, geez, not even getting to 11?

Also, heard reasonable amounts of buzz about Cooper Kupp, but he's not in the table?

4
by Aaron Schatz :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 2:19pm

I believe we don't do Playmaker Score on Division I-AA (FCS) players. Too difficult to compare stats to FBS players.

2
by ChrisS :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 1:49pm

Why is Robinette eligible for the draft? I thought military academy graduates committed to a 5-year stint in the military.

5
by justanothersteve :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 2:57pm

The military academies recently changed the rules to allow athletes that make a pro football team to forego their required two-year commitment. I don't know if this is true for other sports. They are still required to be reservists.

6
by ChrisS :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 3:48pm

Well that seems like a good use of an expensive scarce resource. Not

7
by jtr :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 3:59pm

There are about 61,000 officers in the US Air Force and about 1,600 players in the NFL, so pro football players are absolutely the more scarce resource. More expensive, too. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean NFL players are more valuable, but I could certainly see an argument that the boost in visibility for the Air Force Academy from a player going pro could provide more value in recruiting than one more pilot or officer ever would.

9
by ChrisS :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 5:10pm

Taxpayers pay for all of the academy cadets costs, about $400,000 and there are a limited number of highly sought after spots in the academies.

10
by DaveP :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 8:47pm

The top Ivy League schools cost about $60K a year. US News says $200K for a west point education. Not arguing that it's a lot of money, but throwing out large numbers without any basis doesn't help. Just wondering where you came up with $400K?

12
by ChrisS :: Thu, 04/06/2017 - 9:56am

From the Air Force Academy web site "It is not a matter of affording the tuition or finding a scholarship or grant. An Academy education is valued at more than $416,000, yet we offer it at no cost to our cadets. All that is required in return is your commitment to serve as an officer in the Air Force. The length of commitment depends on your career path and other opportunities, such as graduate or medical school, that may extend it."
http://www.academyadmissions.com/commitment/
Maybe they are exaggerating the cost/value to sell their point of view. But they pay for everything, room and board, tution, books, student fees, medical care, and supplies. Cadets also receive a small monthly stipend and I believe they attend year-round.

17
by Mello :: Thu, 04/06/2017 - 8:42pm

Playing devil's advocate here, but it could be argued that it's worth it for advertising. The military already pays the NFL and broadcast stations a lot to advertise around games.

21
by aces4me :: Sun, 04/09/2017 - 8:55am

This policy will also let the Academies recruit better players. Before the policy change few players with serious NFL prospects would attend because they wouldnt be drafted. Now players with NFL ambitions can attend and as we know many more try than are drafted so the miltary gets more high quality attendees than they would otherwise have. Smart move.

22
by LionInAZ :: Sun, 04/09/2017 - 11:24pm

I have doubts about this. The military academies haven't been relevant for pro prospects for decades, and they don't play Div-I schedules. Beyond that, enrollees need to be nominated by a member of Congress. Much easier to get into a Div-I school with higher visibility.

3
by jtr :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 2:04pm

>There have been some players (although not a lot) who have been as short as Westbrook and have been successful, such as Roddy White and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

Odell Beckham and Antonio Brown are probably two of the top three receivers in the league right now, and neither is quite six feet tall. I don't know that teams need to be too scared of drafting a talented guy just because he isn't 6'4".

Speculatively, Brown and Beckham might be a signal of the pendulum swinging the other way in WR trends. Since the start of the Seahawks success a few years ago, the big trend has been toward tall corners who can press hard at the line of scrimmage and negate opposing WR's height advantage on jump balls. Perhaps the best way to beat those big corners is with smaller receivers who have a quickness advantage over bigger defenders.

13
by Guest789 :: Thu, 04/06/2017 - 12:30pm

He said light, not short. Beckham and Brown are both ~200lb. Westbrook is 25lb lighter than them.

14
by jtr :: Thu, 04/06/2017 - 2:02pm

It must have been edited after the fact, because that was a straight copy-and-paste in my post. I would certainly agree that whether he's heavy enough to stand up to an NFL beating is a more interesting question than whether he's tall enough.

15
by Aaron Schatz :: Thu, 04/06/2017 - 2:36pm

Yes, sorry, we edited that because of a misunderstanding in editing.

18
by nath :: Fri, 04/07/2017 - 8:25pm

I read an intriguing article on Rotoviz that suggested Isaiah Ford has some statistical comparisons that suggest a similarity to Antonio Brown.

I'm surprised Westbrook rates higher than Ford. He's three years older and has had one good season statistically. Ford was taking a large share of targets from the get-go and producing on a team that doesn't typically have a high-powered offense.

19
by Jerry :: Sat, 04/08/2017 - 1:55am

It's probably not that hard to find similar prospects to AB, who was a sixth-round pick. None of them is likely to be great, any more than Brown was expected to be.

23
by Dan :: Mon, 04/10/2017 - 4:38am

White and Houshmandzadeh also each have about 30 pounds on Westbrook (or 20 pounds if you are looking at BMI rather than weight). According to nfldraftscout Westbrook weighed 178, White 207, Houshmandzadeh 211.

8
by Dr. Mooch :: Wed, 04/05/2017 - 5:03pm

If you draft a WR named Mike Williams, you deserve what you get.

11
by Lebo :: Thu, 04/06/2017 - 6:34am

This sentence confuses me: "In short, Playmaker thinks Henderson is likely to be the better player than Williams (although by a relatively small margin), even though Williams is much more highly rated by pre-draft prognosticators."

I thought that the quality of player is more accurately represented by the Playmaker Rating (for which the players have a differential of 26.5%) than the Playmaker Projection (for which the players have a differential of 27 yards). Or have I misinterpreted the descriptions of Playmaker Rating and Playmaker Projection?

16
by ggoldhagen24 :: Thu, 04/06/2017 - 7:05pm

Playmaker rating is pure Playmaker stuff--no draft position taken into consideration, just what goes into the stat. The projection takes into account what other people think and age. That's how it seems to me, anyway.

20
by nath :: Sat, 04/08/2017 - 4:50am

I actually really like Jalen Robinette. Fluid on film and attacks the ball well. Runs routes besides 9s, too.