Much will be written about the talent and depth in this year’s wide receiver draft class; it’ll be one of those truisms that gets passed around non-stop. Just looking at the stats of the top tier of WRs shows us that it isn’t just an empty platitude, but rather a statement that has a lot of merit. On average, this year’s class of WRs gained more yards after the catch, dropped fewer balls, and achieved production utilizing a much wider array of talents. I’ll expand on those stats in the piece, but it’s important to note that these stats won’t predict which WR will be better, but explain their production and complement film study.
Where Did They Catch the Ball?
The table below represents the percentage of catches in each zone, it is color-coded so that an above-average number of receptions is greener and a below-average number is redder.
- Sammy Watkins’ receptions stick out like a sore thumb. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s watched Clemson that 57% of Watkins’ catches came off screens. We’ll examine his yards after the catch in relation to screens later in the piece, but that doesn’t discount the fact that you’d like to see more than 30% of his receptions come past 6 yards – just for some variation.
- The most normalized reception chart belongs to Mike Evans, who was the closest to average among the top tier. Much will be made about Manziel and Evans’ connection and reliance on each other for deep balls. However, we still have to be impressed by the fact that at 6’5” Evans has caught the highest percentage of receptions past 20 yards amongst the top 15 WRs in this class.
- Like Evans, 25% of Benjamin’s receptions came on throws deeper than 20 yards. Benjamin’s receptions are well distributed among the various zones with the exception of screens. He caught 3 screens on the year where he totaled -8 yards. The screen game is not going to be strong for Kelvin at the next level.
- Lee’s receptions are the most stunning, as only 3.5% of his catches (2 receptions) came deeper than 20 yards. He actually dropped more deep passes (3) than he caught. Other than that, we can see the influence of Kiffin’s passing game where the majority of Lee’s receptions came on short passes designed to get yards after the catch.
What Did They Do After They Caught It?
- As alluded to earlier, Marqise Lee was put in situations where he could catch the ball short and take it for good yardage. His 7.05 yards after the catch is top 5 in the class, although his paltry 3.7 yards after the catch on screens leaves a little something to be desired.
- We can see the effects of Benjamin’s deep receptions as he caught the ball an average of 13.4 yards from the line of scrimmage, proving to be a solid deep threat. However, his 4.89 yards after the catch is the lowest among the top 15 WRs. That’s not necessarily a problem with a bigger WR as that’s not ‘where he wins’. However, we still have to take that into account when comparing him to other similarly sized WRs.
- Benjamin’s YAC becomes relevant when compared to Evans who averaged 7.63 yards after the catch. His yardage wasn’t just racked up on broken Manziel plays. On screens he averaged 8.92 yards after the catch, displaying an innate shiftiness/burst that he may not always get credit for.
- I was a bit hard on Watkins earlier for his lack of receptions downfield, however we have to be impressed with his YAC. Despite catching 70% of his passes within 5 yards of the LOS, where defenses were keying in on him – he averaged the highest YAC of this class gaining 8.48 yards on average. Most importantly he still averaged a solid 6.1 yards on non-screen passes showing he can get it done all over the field
How Did they Catch the Ball?
The chart below represents the final break each WR made before catching the ball. The goal isn’t to tell you exactly what routes each WR ran, but the variety of breaks they made as well as how those affected their production. For instance, comebacks typically yield very little YAC (2.5 yards on average) while posts/corner/slants yield high yards after the catch. The chart has factored out screens.
- When he’s not running screens, Watkins has the most normal distribution of route types. This makes his overall YAC on non-screens all the more impressive because we know he’s not running an excess of routes that lead to exaggerated YAC totals.
- As many have surmised via his tape, nearly 44% of Mike Evans’ catches are from coming back to the QB. Whether that’s on a scramble drill or designed route, that high number of comebacks takes away from his experience running sharp-breaking routes like square outs. Although we must consider Evans’ high YAC as a positive sign despite catching so many comebacks.
- Most interesting here is Benjamin and FSU’s utilization of the go route to take advantage of his height mismatch, nearly doubling the average for that specific type of route.
- Nearly 43% of Marqise Lee’s receptions came on short breaking in/out routes designed to put him in a position to gain yardage after the catch. I’m personally a bit surprised by the lack of post/corner/slants that have seemed to factor more heavily into USC’s past offenses.
How Are Their Hands?
Here are the drop rates for each of the WRs. I defined drops as balls that were easy receptions and likely bounced off the hands of a WR, not passes that a WR ‘could have caught’ with an acrobatic play. I won’t provide any commentary since it’s pretty self-explanatory.
So much of a WR’s numbers depend on the quarterback, so we can’t always use stats as effectively as we do for other positions. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t value in them. Whether you use them to identify problems with a prospect’s hands or examine a WR’s YAC in depth, there is merit if you understand their potential and limitations. That’s all I have for now. I’ll answer any questions and tweet out additional info I have on Twitter @NU_Gap. Thanks for reading.