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“Super” Undrafted WR’s

January 24, 2012 Leave a comment

82 receptions, 1536 yards, 9 TD’s

122 receptions, 1569 yards, 9 TD’s

Two of the most statistically gaudy seasons by NFL WR’s in recent memories. Both undrafted players, both playing in Super Bowl 46 in less than two weeks. The Giants’ Victor Cruz and the Patriots’ Wes Welker are a reminder that many of our favorite sports’ best players have not been coveted draft prospects. However, before we start anointing every middling 2012 WR prospect as the “next Welker (or Cruz),” we should put these two Super Bowl wide receivers’ numbers in perspective.
Since the AFL/NFL merger there have been 561 undrafted wide receivers to appear in at least 1 NFL game.

156 of them never caught a single pass

55 caught 1 pass

151 caught between 2 and 9 career passes

Wes Welker, in 2011 alone, caught more passes than 518 of the 560 (92.5%) other receivers to play in a game since 1970 have in their entire careers.

Victor Cruz, with 82 receptions in his career, has more career receptions than 502 of the 560 other receivers.

Of the top 10 undrafted WR’s with the most career receptions, only 3 have ever won a Super Bowl – Rod Smith (2), David Patten (3) and Drew Pearson (1)

The Top 20 undrafted WR’s (below) account for 40.1% of all undrafted WR receptions and 40.5% of all undrafted WR receiving yards:

Two other names on that list stand out: Lance Moore and Davone Bess. It’s very likely that within 5 years, both guys will be in the Top 10, possibly Top 5, all time. Of course, finding a quality undrafted WR is a little bit easier since the draft was cut down from 12 rounds, so it’s not surprising that many of the top guys in this list are from recent years.

Who will be the next great undrafted WR? An undersized guy like Fresno State’s Devon Wylie, Oregon State’s James Rodgers, Connecticut’s Kashif Moore or Tulsa’s Damaris Johnson? A position change, like Appalachian State QB DeAndre Presley? Or maybe a smaller school guy like Liberty’s Chris Summers? Maybe a guy who is projected to be a mid-late rounder who slides out of the draft entirely.

One thing is for certain: the success of Cruz and Welker will ensure that scouts leave no stone unturned in the yearly quest to find the best long-shot receiver in the nation.

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Randy Moss, Hines Ward And The Rest Of The 1998 WR Class

December 31, 2011 Leave a comment

The 2012 NFL Draft looks likely to see a lot of wide receivers selected early. Justin Blackmon, Alshon Jeffery, Michael Floyd and Kendall Wright all look like 1st round picks with a half a dozen or more guys who look like 2nd rounders. As many as 15 of the first 100 names called in April’s draft could be WR’s – making it one of the heaviest concentrations of early WR selections in NFL Draft history.

Another such draft occurred in 1998 – a class which produced one of the all-time greats (Randy Moss) and another highly successful and long-tenured WR (Hines Ward). Moss and Ward were two of 15 WR’s selected in the top 100 picks in 1998. Fourteen years later, Ward is the only guy still employed and most of the other early picks are long-since forgotten. Here’s a look at the WR class of 1998:

While Moss is easily the best WR in the class, he wasn’t the first WR to come off the board. Kevin Dyson, best remembered for coming up one yard short in Super Bowl XXXIV, was taken 5 picks before Moss and finished his otherwise forgettable 6 year career with less production that Moss put up in his first two years. The mercurial Moss, who slipped for the same character issues that would plague his whole career, has one of the most impressive résumés that you’ll ever find (minus the Super Bowl ring). The other 1st rounder – Marcus Nash – was a total flop and was out of the league less than 2 years after being drafted.

The 2nd round was filled with disappointments:

Of the 2nd rounders, Crowell looked like he was on his way to stardom – catching 81 passes for 1338 yards in his 2nd season. At 6’3 215 with good hands and speed, he resembled Randy Moss in many ways. Unfortunately, he suffered a career-altering knee injury in his 3rd season and never was able to regain his pre-injury form. He’s one of the best “what could have been?” types in the last 30 years. The highly hyped Jacquez Green had some nice production early, having 50+ catches in his 2nd and 3rd season. His career fell off a cliff shortly thereafter though, and he was out of the league by 2003. Pathon struggled with injuries and mediocrity for most of his career, although he managed to kick around the league for awhile. Jurevicius was a bit of a late bloomer who battled a number of ailments throughout his career. While he never lived up to his draft position, he was involved in a number of big plays in his career (including a 71 yard catch and run in the 2002 NFC Championship game). Patrick Johnson and Tony Simmons were total flops.

Putting Moss’ production in perspective – he had more catches and yards than Dyson, Nash, Pathon, Green, Johnson, Crowell and Simmons combined.

The first four of the five third rounders were complete washouts. Ward has been one of the most consistent and productive WR’s of his generation and is probably just short of being a Hall Of Fame consideration. The 4th round produced a pair of kick returning slot receivers in Az-Zahir Hakim, a key part of the “Greatest Show On Turf,” and journeyman Tim Dwight. Donald Hayes showed enough promise in Carolina to get a lucrative free agent contract from Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots – and promptly became one of the biggest free agent flops in team history.

The 5th-7th round picks:

Corey Bradford is the best of the late rounders, playing for 9 years between three teams and starting 50 games along the way. Bobby Shaw had a few good years and Alvis Whitted was an excellent special teams coverage guy for almost a decade. The others didn’t amount to much, although Fred Coleman managed to get a Super Bowl ring with the 2001 Patriots.

Overall, the 1998 class serves as a good reminder that a deep prospect class doesn’t always lead to a deep crop of good NFL players. While the 2012 class looks good on paper – despite missing the marquee talent like Moss – chances are that most of the early WR’s will be nothing more than 3 or 4 year contributors and special teams contributors.

Who Will Be 2012’s Marques Colston or Donald Driver?

November 3, 2011 Leave a comment

(Originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)

If your favorite team needs a wide receiver, chances are that guys like Alshon Jeffery, Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd are already on your radar – all three project to be top 15 picks in next April’s NFL Draft. If your team looks like it’s headed for the playoffs, the second tier of WR’s might interest you: Mohamed Sanu, Nick Toon, Ryan Broyles, Jeff Fuller, etc. While those guys will get the bulk of the media coverage and hype in the early spring, there are a number of later prospects who could turn into quality football players. While it’s very rare for a team to hit on a late round WR, guys like Donald Driver, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Steve Johnson and Marques Colston are proof that great receivers can be found in the later rounds of the draft. Let’s take a look at some of the best late round WR’s of the past 16 years, as well as some 2012 prospects could become the next late round steal.

How rare is finding a quality WR in the late rounds of the draft? Very rare indeed. Take a look at the numbers:

Wrs_5-7_medium

Since 1995, there have been 247 WR’s drafted in rounds 5 through 7. About a third of  them have failed to ever appear in an NFL game, and another third have appeared in less than 20 career games (through week 8 of the 2011 season). Only 17% of all late round WR’s have caught 50+ passes in their career and 10% have hauled in 100+. The 2003 class was the best, led by Bobby Wade, Justin Gage in the 5th round, Arnaz Battle in the 6th and Kevin Walter in the 7th. 2005 was easily the worst, failing to produce a single WR who played in 20+ games.

Here are the best rookie seasons for late round receivers in the same time period:

1st_yr_impct_medium

Not particularly impressive. GIbson had a great run with the Rams in 2009 (After being traded by the Eagles a month and a half into his rookie season). Colston stands far above the others, responsible for nearly 19% of all the Saints completions in 2006. Only 6 late round receivers since 1995 have accounted for 10%+ of his team’s catches in his rookie year (In the current pass-happy NFL that would about 32 catches based on 2010 team averages).

Overall, here are the most productive top late round receivers since 1995:

Late_rd2_medium

There aren’t a lot of big names outside of the top guys. Pierre Garcon, Steve Breaston and Steve Johnson should all continue to climb this list – though displacing the top 3 guys will be quite a task.

So, who are the 2012 WR’s who are most likely to find their way onto these lists a year or two from now? Here are 5 possible late round WR’s worth considering:

1. Chris Owusu (Stanford) – He hasn’t put up big numbers, despite playing with Andrew Luck, but Owusu is a solid mid-late round prospect. He has fairly good size/speed and his ability to help in the return game could ensure is he active on gamedays in the NFL. He comes from a pro-style offense and should have less trouble adjusting to NFL schemes than some other college receivers. He doesn’t stand out in any aspect, but he is reliable chain-mover and could be a solid #2 or #3 WR in the NFL.

2. B.J. Cunningham (Michigan State) – Has the size (6’2 210) and college production which tends to attract GM’s once the elite athletes are off the board. Watching him, he reminds me a bit of Carolina Panthers’ 2010 3rd rounder Brandon LaFell. Cunningham has big, soft hands and his size and strength allow him to gain separation despite a lack of explosiveness. Like a lot of college WR’s, his route-running is sloppy and he will need to improve that if he hopes to find a job on an NFL roster.

3. Damarlo Belcher (Indiana) – Big, productive and surprising athleticism for his size, Belcher will catch the eyes of scouts at the combine (if he’s invited) or in pre-draft workouts. Unfortunately for him, he was recently kicked off the team which makes the odds of him being drafted pretty slim. Still, he creates the types of mismatches which will intrigue some NFL team into giving him a chance late or as an undrafted FA.

4. Brian Quick (Appalachian State) – Another big (6’5, 220) and highly productive receiver, Quick would be a serious consideration for the 2nd or 3rd round if he were faster. Throughout his college career, he’s put up an impressive 17 yards per reception – better than any of the top 2012 WR prospects. Despite being fairly slow (the general consensus is that he will run a 4.6 40 at the combine), he has some big play ability.  A former basketball player, Quick has great leaping ability, which on top of his size could make him a quality red-zone target at the next level.A good showing at the combine and Quick might not last until the later rounds of the draft.

5. Joe Adams (Arkansas) – Adams is a speedster (sub 4.4) with great hands who should come off the board in the 5th or 6th round. He’s an elusive runner after the catch and on punt returns. He could find a lot of success in the NFL on screen/short passes due to his YAC ability. He’s a poor route-runner at this point, which combined with his lack of strength, will cause him to struggle to consistently gain separation from NFL DB’s despite having quick feet and a good first step. He will probably need a year or two to improve his route running and add some muscle before he will be a productive NFL receiver. But his playmaking ability gives him a very high upside.

The Worst Ever? 1989 WR’s

October 30, 2011 Leave a comment

In a previous post, I nominated 1997 as perhaps the worst ever draft class of wide receivers. However, there are a few other really poor classes. Today we look at the 1989 group, a class of 40 receivers over 12 rounds.

Some quick tidbits:

23 of 28 teams selected a WR

26 of 40 WR’s appeared in an NFL game

3 colleges had 2 WR’s selected (Auburn, NC State and Northern Arizona)

Only 2 WR’s had > 5,000 yards receiving

7 WR’s had more than 100 catches

30 of 40 WR’s had less than 50 career receptions

The first round  was a mixed bag:

Dykes showed promise early, hauling in 49 catches for 795 yards his rookie year. He was on pace to top those numbers in 1990 when he shattered his kneecap (ending his season) and then injured his eye in a barfight with teammate Irving Fryar (ending his career). Drafted by the Colts, he was traded to the Falcons after his rookie season. Rison had a great 5 year run with the Falcons- averaging 83 catches and 1127 yards per season. Once he got out of the Run-And-Shoot and headed to the Browns, his career faded quickly. He put up only 268 catches for 3752 yards, spread over 5 different teams, in the 6 ensuing seasons. Shawn Collins was a bust, catching 92 passes over his first 2 years (in that very same Run-And-Shoot in which Rison found success) and had only 6 catches the next 2 years before falling out of the league.

The 2nd and 3rd round produced a whole lot of nothing:

Beebee was a solid complement to James Lofton and Andre Reed in the Bills’ Super Bowl (losing) teams of the early 90’s but he never had more than 40 catches in a season. The other 5 receivers accounted for a cumulative 118 catches for 1859 yards in 125 career games. Hill, Worthen and Ford were all out of football by 1991 and Peebles by 1992.

The 4th and 5th rounds were a bit better:

Timpson played for 8 years, totaling 300 receptions for 4047 yards. Tony Martin is the 2nd best WR to come out of the 1989 draft (behind Rison). Picked up off waivers by the Dolphins, he ended up stuck behind guys like Mark Duper, Mark Clayton and Irving Fyrar. He didn’t get a chance to shine until he went to San Diego in 1994, putting up an impressive 288 catches 4184 yards and 33 TD’s in 4 years with the Chargers. He finished his career with 593 receptions, 9065 yards and 56 TD’s – one of the better careers for a WR drafted so late. Query is the only other guy from that group who had more than 100 career catches (141 in 6 years).

The late rounds didn’t yield much at all:

Floyd Turner was a quality #2/#3 WR for a few years and Robb Thomas hung around for a long time as a #4 WR who excelled on special teams. None of the others had even 50 career catches.

Worse than 1997? To compare the two years, let’s take out the 1989 receivers drafted after the 9th round (the 1997 draft had 240 total draft picks in 7 rounds, the 1989 draft hit pick #240 in the 9th round). What we’re left with is:

Pretty similar groups. Looking at the two classes side by side:

Derrick Mason (1997) is better than Andre Rison (1989) as the top guy in each class. Each class had one quality first rounder (Rison and Ike Hilliard) and nothing else before the 4th round. Overall, 1989 is probably a bit worse if only because Martin and Rison had shorter periods of success than Hilliard and Mason.

Categories: Draft Tags: , , , ,

1st Round WR: 2005-2009

October 22, 2011 Leave a comment

(Originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)

 
The 2012 NFL Draft looks to be absolutely loaded with quality receiving prospects. Alshon Jeffery, Michael Floyd, Justin Blackmon, Ryan Broyles, Jeff Fuller and Juron Criner are all 1st round possibilities at this point and a few other guys should earn Day One consideration by the time April rolls around. While it’s unlikely that all the top underclassmen will declare, there should be enough to make 2012 one of the deepest WR groups in history. With that in mind, it’s useful to look back at the last 10 years of 1st round WR’s to get an idea of what to expect from the Class of 2012.

Earlier this week, we looked at the 1st round WR’s drafted in the first half of last decade (2000-2004). Those five years produced 24 WR’s, most of whom have been disappointments to some degree. The five years which  followed have resulted in (thus far) a stronger crop of players, including producing two of the top five receivers in the league (Calvin Johnson and Roddy White).

The big difference we see between the first half of the decade group and the second group is that the later receivers (2005-09) have been more productive in terms of both receptions per game as well as yards per game. The first group (2000-04) only included 4 WR’s (out of 24) who have averaged 4+ catches per year: Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Reggie Wayne and Santana Moss. The second half of the decade has produced 6 such receivers (out of 19):

2005-2009_wr1_medium

Even some of the guys at the bottom of the list have shown some signs of life. Meachem has turned into a 40-50 catch per year guy opposite Marques Colston in New Orleans. Mike Williams had a brief revival last year after being an epic flop for his first 3 seasons in the league and drifting out of the league for two years. He’s off to a slow and injury-hampered start to this season, so it remains to be seen whether or not he can capitalize on his fresh start with the Seahawks. Ted Ginn Jr.’s not utilized much as a receiver by the 49ers, but is a useful (and sometimes spectacular) return man. Heyward-Bey has shown flashes (albeit against poor pass defenses) and could be on the road to shedding his “bust” label. Anthony Gonzalez has been riddled with injuries (6 total games played since opening day 2009) and is in danger of washing out of the league. Williamson, Jones and Davis are out of the league.

Another, perhaps better, way to measure the impact of a receiver is by looking at the percentage of his team’s total pass offense that he accounts for. In that regard, Roddy White (aided by good health and a lack of other targets in Atlanta) has put up the most impressive numbers. In 2008, he accounted for over a third of the Falcons‘ total catches (the 21st best season since 1980) and 40% (19th best since 1980) of their yards. He’s also hauled in 24%+ of Atlanta’s passes in each of the last 4 seasons. Here are the 25 best performances thus far for the 2005-2009 1st round WR group:

2005-2009_wr2_medium

Here are how the WR classes of the 2000’s stack up against each other:

2005-2009_wr3_medium

One thing that is apparent from looking at these classes next to each other is that the 2009 1st round class could be historically good if Kenny Britt can rebound from his knee injury next year (and stay out of trouble) and Darrius Heyward-Bey continues to progress.

All that said, the 1st round is only a piece of the puzzle. Which year in the decade produced the best overall WR group from the 1st selection all the way through the 256th pick? Next week I’ll take a look at the best and worst of the non-1st round receivers of the 2000’s.

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Strength in Numbers: The 1991 WR Class

October 20, 2011 Leave a comment

As we’ve seen, position specific draft classes come in all variations. Some are top heavy  and others are near complete flops except for one standout. Others, like the WR Class of 1991 (and 2008) produce a whole bunch of guys who are “pretty good” and kick around the league for years.
The first round was a mixed bag:

Herman Moore was the first WR selected and went on to live up to his expectations before injuries derailed his career. He was a 1st team All Pro for three consecutive seasons between 1995-1997 racking up 333 catches, 4275 yards and 31 TD’s over that period. Harper, best known for his 45 yard TD catch that put Super Bowl XXVII out of reach, never amounted to much despite yearly proclamations that he was about to become the next great WR. Pritchard got off to a great start in the Falcons’ Run-and-Shoot offense of the early 1990’s before fading quickly after leaving Atlanta. Randal Hill was traded to the Cardinals just one game into his career, netting the Dolphins the 1992 1st rounder used on long time CB Troy Vincent. Hill himself didn’t turn out too well, putting up only 2 years with 50+ catches in a 7 year career.

The 2nd and 3rd rounds produced a few flops:

Carroll, Thomas, Barrett, Daniels and Barnett were all out of the league by 1994. Graham was a quality journeyman, catching 45+ passes for each of the 5 teams he played for over an 11 year career. Dawsey flashed some promise early but never could put it all together consistently. Jake Reed was a late bloomer – he had 11 catches his first 3 years and 297 over the next 4 years (all of which were 1000+ yard years). Mills played for 9 years as a #3/#4 WR. McCaffrey had an excellent career, finishing up with 565 receptions and 7,422 yards.

Between rounds 4-12, 28 more receivers came off the board:

4th rounders Yancey Thigpen and Rocket Ismail (once Ismail came back from the CFL) each ended up with over 300 catches and 5,000 yards receiving. Late rounders Michael Jackson (353 receptions, 5,393 yards, 46 TD) and Shawn Jefferson (470 receptions, 7,023 yards, 29 TD) were both productive receivers. And the best was nearly the last, as 326th overall Keenan McCardell ended up as a fringe Hall of Famer. He ended up with 883 catches for 11,373 yards and 63 TD spread over 16 seasons and 5 teams – including 7 seasons with 70+ receptions.

Overall the class of 1991 accumulated 2,425 games played, 6,478 receptions for 92,285 yards and 503 TD.

13 times, a Class of 1991 WR accounted for more than 25% of his team’s total receptions, making it the 5th best draft class since the 1970 merger in that respect:

The Class Of 1991 may not be the best WR class of all time (with only 1 borderline Hall Of Fame talent, it’s tough to make that claim) but it was book-ended by two of the better WR’s of the late 90’s/early 00’s and had a lot of depth in between.

Categories: Draft, Stats Tags: , ,

1st Round WR’s 2000-2004: A Real Horror Story

October 18, 2011 1 comment

(Originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)

 

In just a couple of weeks, the streets will be filled with witches, goblins, ghosts and other nightmarish creatures as they roam door to door demanding candy. But if you really want to scare your friends this Halloween, you should dress up as one myriad 1st round WR busts who entered the NFL between 2000 and 2004. Just hearing the name “Rashaun Woods” or “R.Jay Soward” is enough to send a chill up any general manager’s spine. Drafting WR’s is exceptionally difficult, but the early part of last decade produced some real nightmares.

When you draft any player in the 1st round, you are hoping for a cornerstone of your franchise. A player who will not only be a game-changing talent, but someone who can bring longevity and long-term stability to his position. Unfortunately, it rarely works that way. Consider these haunting facts:

Between 2000-2004 there were 24 WR’s drafted in the 1st round. Of those, only Reggie Wayne (2001, Colts), Andre Johnson (2003, Texans) and Larry Fitzgerald (2004, Cardinals) are still with their original team. Less than half (11) are still active in the league.

The 24 WR’s have cumulatively averaged just 3 catches and 42 yards per game over the course of their careers. Only 4 of the receivers (Fitzgerald, A.Johnson, Wayne and Santana Moss) have averaged 4+ catches per game. Only 7 have averaged 50+ receiving yards per game:

2000-04_wr_1_medium

But that’s not all. Of the 24 1st round WR’s in this time period, only a quarter of them (Wayne, Fitzgerald, A.Johnson, Lee Evans, Michael Clayton and Michael Jenkins) played more than 5 seasons with their drafting team. So much for “long term stability”. This is what it looks like in graphical form:

1st_round_service_time_medium

Three 1st rounders (Rashaun Woods, R.Jay Soward and Sylvester Morris) only played one season in the league. The majority of the others played out their rookie contracts (typically 4 or 5 year deals) and bolted for greener pastures – or the unemployment line.

The 2000-2004 1st round WR’s have compiled 154 seasons played and 90 of those (58%) have resulted in fewer than 50 receptions:

Number_receptions_medium

Not scared yet? Take out the three superstars (Wayne, Fitzgerald, A.Johnson) and the other 21 WR’s have averaged a paltry 13% of their team’s catches throughout their career. Hardly what one hopes for when selecting a receiver early in the draft.

So when the spring rolls around and your favorite team is considering a WR on Day 1 of the draft, don’t get your hopes up too high. As exciting as it is to imagine Alshon Jeffery, Justin Blackmon or Michael Floyd as the next Reggie Wayne, Larry Fitzgerald or Andre Johnson, the WR class of 2012 is likely to produce more tricks than treats.

Categories: Draft Tags: , , ,
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