Treylon Burks Leads Crowded WR Draft Class

Arkansas Razorbacks WR Treylon Burks
Arkansas Razorbacks WR Treylon Burks
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Draft - Although nothing is certain in the NFL draft, this year's wide receiver class seems to be more uncertain than most. Most prognosticators agreed that Ja'Marr Chase was the top wide receiver prospect in the 2021 NFL draft. This year, five players—Drake London, Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Treylon Burks, and Jameson Williams—are all projected to go in the first round, but no one is quite sure what their order of selection will or should be. This dynamic makes the selection process even more hazardous for NFL general managers, who will have many similarly-rated wide receivers to choose from and are likely to be intensely second-guessed if they pick a bust.

In a draft with so many closely rated prospects based on tape, a statistical analysis of what has correlated to success in the past could be helpful to break up the logjam. Enter Playmaker Score. Playmaker Score is a model that projects NFL success for wide receivers based on a statistical analysis of all of the Division I wide receivers drafted in the years 1996 to 2018, and measures the following:

  • The 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 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);
     
  • A variable that rewards players who enter the draft as underclassmen and punishes those who exhaust their college eligibility;
     
  • The wide receiver's rushing attempts per game during their peak season for receiving yards per team attempt; and
     
  • A factor that gives a bonus to wide receivers who played for the same college team, entered the draft for the same year, and are projected to be drafted.

As always, Football Outsiders' 2022 NFL draft coverage is presented by Underdog Fantasy!

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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% Playmaker Rating scores more highly than 75% of wide receiver prospects drafted since 1996. Playmaker Projection (which projects each wideout's average receiving yards over the course of his first five NFL regular seasons) is a more realistic measurement. Playmaker Projection acknowledges that a player with a first-round grade and a mediocre Playmaker Rating is more likely to succeed than a seventh-rounder whom Playmaker Rating 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 ESPN's Scouts Inc.

Below, we take a look at some of Playmaker's top prospects in the 2022 NFL draft, along with some similar prospects from previous drafts. Our similar historical prospects are based on former players who were similar in their Playmaker statistics, so you might see us compare two physically dissimilar players because they were similar statistically.

Treylon Burks, Arkansas: 737 Yards/Season

Scouts, Inc.: No. 23 Overall
Similar Historical Prospects: Amari Cooper, Brandin Cooks

According to Playmaker, Burks tops the group of "good but not great" wide receivers in this draft. Importantly, the Arkansas Razorbacks only passed 294 times this season, which means that Burks' 1,123 receiving yards and 11 touchdown receptions are much more impressive than they appear on the surface. The Razorbacks also used Burks successfully in the running game, as he recorded 112 yards on only 14 carries. Historically, star college wideouts with more college rushing attempts per game tend to have less impressive stats in the passing game than their talent would otherwise produce. Burks, however, edges each of the other top four prospects in all of the receiving rate stats despite also having more rushing attempts.

The Razorbacks may not be a top-10 program like Alabama or Ohio State, but that shouldn't matter. Some of the NFL's greatest receivers came from programs such as Marshall and Central Michigan University.

That said, any concerns that scouts have about Burks' game should be taken seriously. Playmaker has a better track record of predicting high-rated busts than booms. For example, Playmaker thought highly of Corey Coleman and Stephen Hill, who put up huge numbers in non-traditional offenses. However, all else being equal, Burks' statistical profile gives him the edge in Playmaker.

Garrett Wilson, Ohio State: 706 Yards/Season

Scouts, Inc.: No. 6 Overall
Similar Historical Prospects: Ted Ginn, Jerry Jeudy

Playmaker actually prefers Wilson's sophomore year to his junior one, as he caught 43 passes for 723 yards and six touchdowns during a season when his team passed only 225 times. Wilson's receiving rate stats are a bit on the mediocre side for a top wide receiver prospect, but he receives a huge boost in one area: the strength of his competition for catches at Ohio State. The fact that he enters the draft with Chris Olave, another first-round hopeful, is enough to push his projection from "kinda OK" to "actually fairly good." Although Playmaker does not rate him as highly as Burks overall, the two are close enough that a team which feels that Wilson's tape is significantly better could not be faulted for choosing Wilson first.

Chris Olave, Ohio State: 617 Yards/Season

Scouts, Inc.: No. 19 Overall
Similar Historical Prospects: Roddy White, Peter Warrick

Olave has slightly better rate stats than his teammate, Garrett Wilson, and similarly benefits from the "talented teammates" factor. However, Olave has one big red flag: he enters the draft as a senior. Even after adjusting for projected draft position, underclassmen typically have much greater success in the NFL than seniors. Although there have been several exceptions (such as Roddy White), first-round seniors are disproportionately busts (such as Kevin White, Peter Warrick, and Rashaun Woods).

That said, Olave did not seem to benefit much statistically from attending Ohio State as a senior. Like Wilson, Playmaker actually thinks that Olave was best during Ohio State's shorter 2020 season. And that COVID season may have impacted Olave's decision to return for 2021, which makes the red flag of his senior status a bit less severe. Usually, players who are good enough to come out as juniors will do so, but Olave may have stayed for his senior year because he didn't want to leave after a truncated season.

Jameson Williams, Alabama: 611 Yards/Season

Scouts, Inc.: No. 25 Overall
Similar Historical Prospect: Garrett Wilson

That is not a typo—from a pure numbers perspective, Williams is probably more similar to Garrett Wilson than any other prospect. The two players' receiving yards per team attempt, receiving touchdowns per team attempt, and peak rushing attempts per game are almost identical. The two even played together on the same team (Ohio State) before Williams transferred to Alabama!

Like Wilson, Williams receives a significant boost from playing with talented teammates. However, unlike Wilson, Williams does not join the draft with another first-round prospect. Rather, Williams joins the draft with John Metchie III and Slade Bolden, who are ranked 64th and 323rd by Scouts, Inc., respectively. Although fine prospects in their own right, their draft value does not quite add up to be the same as a first-round pick. Accordingly, Williams falls just a bit behind Wilson due to his own lower draft projection and his lower rating in the "talented teammate" factor.

Note that Williams is likely to fall a few spots on draft day because of an ACL injury suffered during the National Championship Game; Playmaker does not take this into account.

Drake London, USC: 514 Yards/Season

Scouts, Inc.: No. 14 Overall
Similar Historical Prospects: Darrius Heyward-Bey, DeVante Parker

London is this year's most controversial Playmaker projection. Although many draftniks rank London as the top wide receiver prospect, Playmaker projects him significantly lower than any other wide receiver projected to be drafted in the top to middle of the first round in this draft.

Why is Playmaker so low on London? Most importantly, London's receiving rate stats are not as good as the typical first-round wide receiver's. In 2021, London caught 88 passes for 1,084 yards and seven touchdowns. However, USC passed 500 times in 2021, meaning London averaged only 2.2 yards per team attempt and 0.014 touchdowns per team attempt.

Of course, the big reason that London's 2021 stats are low is because he missed four of USC's 12 games. Because Playmaker only takes the player's "peak" season, most players can make up for an injury-shortened season with a better one from prior years. However, London's only outstanding season was his short junior one. Notably, London played a full—if short—season as a sophomore and posted a poorer yards per team attempt and touchdowns per team attempt than all of the top prospects other than Williams, who was stuck behind Wilson and Olave at Ohio State.

If he is selected in the first round as expected, London will join a very small group of first-round wide receivers who entered the draft with only one good shortened season to their credit. The NFL results of that group—DeVante Parker, Peter Warrick, and Travis Taylor—are mixed. The risk is that players like London may have simply been on a hot streak and might have come back to earth if they were given the full year to play. Moreover, in London's case, his eight games at USC were good but not spectacular. If you prorate London's numbers, he still falls behind the other four top prospects in touchdown rate and is only roughly equivalent in yards per team attempt.

London's projection also suffers from an apparent lack of competition for catches. Unlike Ohio State and Alabama, who have multiple quality wide receiver prospects, no USC wide receiver other than London received a combine invite.

London has a somewhat unusual profile, so it certainly would not be shocking for him to exceed his projection. That said, it is hard to slice the numbers in any way that would suggest that London would be a better gamble than the other four high-rated options.

Skyy Moore, Western Michigan: 483 Yards/Season

Scouts, Inc.: No. 57 Overall
Similar Historical Prospects: Bobby Engram, JuJu Smith-Schuster

Moore's draft stock has been rising and now matches his high Playmaker projection. Moore recorded 1,292 receiving yards last year despite the Broncos only passing 355 times. Moore also recorded 10 receiving touchdowns, which gives him a touchdown per team attempt rate only slightly below this draft's more highly touted prospects. Moore certainly had a lower level of competition in the MAC, but the MAC has produced numerous star NFL receivers in the past, such as Randy Moss and Antonio Brown. As a likely third-round pick, history suggests that Moore has an uphill battle to NFL stardom. Nevertheless, a third-round pick is a small price to pay for a receiver prospect who has comparable numbers to this year's top wideouts.

Jahan Dotson, Penn State: 425 Yards/Season

Scouts, Inc.: No. 28 Overall
Similar Historical Prospects: Limas Sweed, Devery Henderson

Although Dotson is projected to be drafted in the late first round, Playmaker is less bullish on his prospects than those of Moore, who is ranked much lower. The fatal flaw in Dotson's statistical profile is that he comes out as a senior and did not post the eye-popping numbers that other "successful seniors" have posted in the past. Dotson had 1,182 receiving yards as a senior, but his team passed 451 times. To overcome the senior wide receiver adjustment, Dotson would have needed to post numbers like successful third-round pick Tyler Lockett, whose 1,515 receiving yards in 415 team pass attempts was enough to mitigate Playmaker's bias in favor of underclassmen.

John Metchie III, Alabama: 416 Yards/Season

Scouts, Inc.: No. 64 Overall
Similar Historical Prospects: Reche Caldwell, Steve Smith (NY Giants)

Metchie's receiving yardage total is similar to Jameson Williams', but Metchie falls behind in touchdowns and rushing attempts. Metchie's receiving numbers are just OK when considered in isolation, but he had a lot of competition for catches at Alabama. Not only did Metchie have to compete with Williams, but also with Slade Bolden, another draftable prospect. Metchie has the highest talented teammate adjustment in this year's class, and it transforms a projection that would otherwise be ho-hum into one that is rather good.

As with his teammate Williams, Metchie is recovering from an ACL injury that could knock him down a few spots on draft day but is not considered by Playmaker.

POTENTIAL SLEEPER
Wan'Dale Robinson, Kentucky: 432 Yards/Season

Scouts, Inc.: No. 110 Overall
Similar Historical Prospects: Jarvis Landry, Sidney Rice

If not for Playmaker's projected draft position adjustment, Robinson would rank as the fourth-best wide receiver prospect in this year's draft, falling behind only Burks, Wilson, and Williamson. Robinson blossomed after transferring from Nebraska to Kentucky, recording an impressive 1,334 receiving yards on a team that only passed 338 times. Robinson also had some success in the running game, rushing seven times for 111 yards. Robinson has a very similar statistical profile to Burks, and he could serve as a nice consolation prize for a team drafting in the middle rounds.

2022 Playmaker Scores
Name College Proj.
Round
Projection Rating
Treylon Burks Arkansas 1 736.5 98.2%
Garrett Wilson Ohio State 1 705.6 97.3%
Chris Olave Ohio State 1 616.5 83.1%
Jameson Williams Alabama 1-2 611.1 96.8%
Drake London USC 2-3 513.7 63.5%
Skyy Moore Western Michigan 2-3 483.4 94.0%
Wan'Dale Robinson Kentucky 3-4 432.0 94.8%
Jahan Dotson Penn State 1-2 424.5 54.8%
John Metchie III Alabama 2-3 416.1 82.7%
Khalil Shakir Boise State 3 366.5 75.8%
Jalen Tolbert South Alabama 3 325.0 64.0%
George Pickens Georgia 2-3 319.3 61.5%
David Bell Purdue 4 269.7 74.5%
Kyle Philips UCLA 4-5 264.0 77.4%
Calvin Austin III Memphis 3 248.3 40.0%
Velus Jones Tennessee 3 240.5 36.8%
Alec Pierce Cincinnati 3 238.7 36.6%
Romeo Doubs Nevada 4 212.5 47.7%
Kevin Austin Jr. Notre Dame 5-6 201.6 70.2%
Josh Johnson Tulsa 5-6 147.5 44.0%
Erik Ezukanma Texas Tech 7 133.7 64.2%
Justyn Ross Clemson 4 118.9 13.7%
Bo Melton Rutgers 4-5 117.8 19.2%
Danny Gray SMU 5 99.8 20.2%
Tyquan Thornton Baylor UDFA 92.8 54.8%
Charleston Rambo Miami 6 92.3 28.5%
Tay Martin Oklahoma State 7-UDFA 89.4 48.1%
Slade Bolden Alabama UDFA 83.9 57.9%
Devon Williams Oregon 7 82.6 46.9%
Tre Turner Virginia Tech 6-7 80.9 29.4%
Reggie Roberson Jr. SMU 6-7 38.3 15.8%
Jalen Nailor Michigan State UDFA 24.6 26.3%
Dontario Drummond Ole Miss 7-UDFA 8.1 15.3%
Ty Fryfogle Indiana UDFA 7.6 21.3%
Braylon Sanders Ole Miss 4-5 6.8 1.8%
Johnny Johnson III Oregon UDFA 0.0 8.9%
Mike Woods Oklahoma UDFA 0.0 6.8%
Tarique Milton Iowa State UDFA 0.0 3.5%

An edited version of this article originally appeared on ESPN+.

Comments

14 comments, Last at 02 May 2022, 4:07pm

2 yep

There are a few guys in the chart who are coming back to school this year: Jayden Reed, Dontay Demus, Ainias Smith, Kearis Jackson, Joseph Ngata. At least they're all projected to go undrafted which is technically correct as they're not in the draft. 

5 I get it, but that's a weird…

In reply to by hakimdropstheball

I get it, but that's a weird way to categorize someone who's not in the draft.

Wouldn't it make sense to give them a N/A designation?

Or give them a rating, but with a + meaning not in draft.

3 Christian Watson

Christian Watson of NDSU is getting a lot of hype lately but I guess that is based more on his size/speed/combine performance. I assume Playmaker is not fond of a senior who put up 40/800/7.

but... that size/speed!

6 re: No FCS players!

In reply to by Aaron Schatz

Ah yes, I see basically the same question & answer regarding Cooper Kupp in the 2017 article.

Looks like BackCAST also excludes them but QBASE and SackSEER have some FCS projections.

I wonder if there is anything to be extrapolated from FCS WRs taken in the top 100 picks specifically.

9 Perhaps this was discussed…

Perhaps this was discussed in an prior year’s article, but is there a reason that you scale to team passing attempts instead of individual routes run? Seems like it would be a reasonable way to solve for injury issues like with Drake London. 

10 Is individual routes run a…

Is individual routes run a publicly available statistic? If not, it would require charting the game, which I'm 99% sure FO doesn't do for college games. Team passing attempts is available in box scores. 

13 On the other hand, given the…

On the other hand, given the advancements in offensive scheme, training/nutrition, scouting, etc since 1996, the predictive accuracy of the model could actually benefit from removing older, pre-charting years from the training data.