Successful Wide Receiver Measurement Analysis: 2013 Rookies

Jacob Feldman

tavon_austinAt the end of every February, hundreds of NFL coaches, scouts, doctors, and staff members flock to Indianapolis. At the same time, die hard football fans start to show the effects of rookie fever and flock to their TVs to set their DVRs for the NFL Combine.

When you stop to think about it, it really is a strange phenomenon.

We watch these young men run, jump, and lift over and over again. They get measured like prize cattle and prodded by team doctors to see if they fit the bill. The only issue is that no one really knows exactly what to look for in these measurements. Some NFL teams are known to have a strong affinity for one measurement over the others (for example, Oakland and 40 yard dash times) and there are a ton of commonly held beliefs such as quarterbacks needing to be 6’2” or taller to succeed. What exactly does the combine mean to us, the dynasty fantasy footballer? Sure, faster and bigger is better. But the question that I’ve always had is exactly how fast is fast enough? Is it just a fast 40 or do I need to look at cone, shuttle, 10 yard splits, and everything else too?

Last June I made my first attempt to delve into the endeavor of figuring out exactly how to score and weight the various drills and measurements at the combine in order to figure out the quality of a wide receiver’s skill set – the positive response was overwhelming. This year, there are a few tweaks to the methodology in order to hopefully produce even better results.  My goal was to figure out what measurements mean the most and see if there were any trends that might help us increase our odds of getting that next big receiver and lessen the chances of drafting yet another wide receiver bust.

The whole process starts with me taking the NFL receivers that have placed in the top 20 PPR scorers in one of the last two seasons. This left me with a group of 29 receivers. I then went back and found data for their combine appearances. Their scores in the following categories were noted:

1)    Height

2)    Body Mass Index

3)    Hand Size

4)    Arm Length

5)    40 Yard Dash Time

6)    Vertical Leap

7)    Broad Jump

8)    20 Yard Shuttle

9)    Three Cone Drill

Once I had the data collected, I did some basic statistical analysis on the nine data points for the 29 different receivers. The mean of the group was found as well as the standard deviation for each of the categories. If you’re unfamiliar with statistics, standard deviation is the average distance away from the mean. In a naturally occurring data set, such as physical measurements, you expect 68% of your data to be between 1 standard deviation above the mean and 1 standard deviation below the mean. You then expect an additional 13.5% to be between one deviation and two deviations on each of the ends. Only 2.5% of any data set should be more than two deviations on either end.

Here’s how the scoring works.

If the measurement was within 1 standard deviation of the average of the top NFL receivers, 1 point was awarded. Anything that was more than 1 standard deviation above was given 2 points. Something that was between 1 and 2 deviations below the average ended up being -1 points, and anything more than 2 deviations below lost 2 points.

Important Notes

1)    There is an exception to every rule. There was one top WR that just doesn’t fit – Wes Welker. According to the analysis, he is too small, too slow, and his jumps are way under par, yet he excels in the league. He is proof that anyone can be a top WR; however, what are the chances that we will find someone exactly like Wes Welker again? Not very likely.

2)    The vast majority of the top fantasy WRs are outside receivers. Many of the drills and the results of those drills are skewed towards that type of receiver. That means that many of the slot receivers end up scoring lower – this includes guys like Welker and Randall Cobb as well as future rookie Tavon Austin.

3)    High scores don’t guarantee success and low scores don’t mean a receiver is destined to fail. All that the score reflects is if they possess a physical skill set that closely mirrors that of the current group of top NFL receivers. There is an awful lot that goes into making a successful player that isn’t measured by these drills. Use this as a piece of the puzzle, not the whole puzzle.

4)    One non-drill trend I noticed is that almost half the top NFL receivers were first round picks in the NFL draft. Any receiver taken in the first round needs to be given a little extra consideration, especially those taken in the first five or six picks. The other half of the receivers came almost equally from just about every other round, so day two picks and day three picks seem to have equal opportunities.

5)    Falling short in one of the measurements seems to be okay. Falling short in more than that seems to be a bit of a red flag. Only four of the 29 NFL receivers had more than one area where they graded out more than 1 standard deviation below the mean. Keep in mind that falling short and being deficient in an area means that they would have been in the bottom 16.5% of the sample. Being in that bottom portion in multiple physical categories isn’t a good thing.

Here is the minimum I looked at before a receiver became deficient in an area and losing at least one point. In other words, these are the values that are one standard deviation below the mean of the top 29 receivers in the sample. Keep in mind that top receivers seem to be able to make up for one deficient area, but having multiple areas and still being a top player seems to be pretty rare and largely limited to those playing in a slot receiver role.

The Minimums for a top WR

Height – At least 71 inches tall (5’11”)

Body Mass Index – At least 26.55

Hand Size – At least 9.1 inches

Arm Length – At least 31.34 inches

40 Yard Dash – Under 4.55 seconds

Vertical Leap – At least 34 inches

Broad Jump – At least 118 inches (9’ 10”)

20 Yard Shuttle – Under 4.37 seconds

Three Cone Drill – Under 7.08 seconds

Using this system, here is a rough breakdown of the top 29 receivers in the NFL right now: 

  • The average score for the top receivers was 7 points with 1 missing drill, which means they probably would have had an 8 if they participated in all drills.
  • Only 3 of the 29 receivers had scores of 2 or lower. Those were Cobb, Welker and Antonio Brown.
  • 5 of the 29 receivers had double digit scores with the top two being Calvin Johnson (11 points with 2 missing drills) and Julio Jones (12 points).
  • If you give one point per missing drill, the number in double digits jumps to 9 receivers.

Here are some of the top scores from the group of 29 NFL receivers for comparison:

12 points – Julio Jones

11 points – Calvin Johnson (2 missing)

10 points – Larry Fitzgerald (1 missing), Roddy White, Vincent Jackson (1 missing),

9 points – Mike Williams, Andre Johnson (3 missing)

8 points –  Victor Cruz (2 missing), Mike Wallace, Brandon Marshall, AJ Green, Dwayne Bowe, Marques Colston, Pierre Garcon

As you can see by the names, these are some pretty gifted athletes on this list. They also have pretty special skill sets. If you look at the draft position of these receivers, you notice a lot of what I mentioned above. We have seven first round picks (four of them very early), one second rounder, one third rounder, two fourth rounders, one sixth rounder, one seventh rounder, and one who went undrafted. Keep in mind, high scores don’t guarantee success. It just means that athletes that can score an eight or higher are definitely players to keep an eye on as the draft and training camps occur, even if they aren’t taken until the later rounds.

Here are the top scorers from the 2013 rookie class with any deficient areas noted:

13 points – Rodney Smith

12 points – Da’Rick Rodgers, Josh Boyce (Arm Length)

11 points – Mark Harrison

10 points – None

9 points – Markus Wheaton (BMI), Ryan Spadola (Arm Length)

8 points – Ryan Swope (Hand size)

7 points – Tavarres King (BMI), Justin Hunter (BMI)

This next group had decent scores, but they all have multiple areas of deficiencies or several missing drills that lowered their scores. Keep in mind that multiple deficiencies aren’t very common in the top group of receivers outside of slot receivers:

7 points – Stedman Bailey (Height, Broad Jump)

6 points – Marcus Davis (40 yard dash, 3 cone drill, missing 1), TJ Moe (Arm Length, 40 yard dash), Quinton Patton (Vertical Leap, Broad Jump)

5 points – Marquess Wilson (BMI, Arm Length), Cordarrelle Patterson (Hand Size, missing 2), Aaron Mellette (Shuttle, 3 Cone Drill), Tyrone Goard (BMI, Hand Size, Shuttle), Corey Fuller (BMI, missing 2)

Keep in mind that the scores are just a snapshot of the player. It is a one day look at one part of what makes them a football player. Here are just a few additional thoughts on some of the bigger names in this draft class in alphabetical order with their score in parentheses:

Keenan Allen (2) – Didn’t perform any of the drills due to a lingering knee injury. He’ll have a lot riding on his April pro day.

Tavon Austin (0) – The sample is almost entirely outside receivers and is overly harsh on slot receivers like Austin. Almost all of his deficiencies were size based other than being a few inches short on his vertical. His 40 yard dash and shuttle run were exceptional, so he’s still one of my top receivers even with a poor score.

Aaron Dobson (0) – Like Allen, Dobson didn’t do any of the drills due to injury. He is a little bit thin and has smaller hands than I would have hoped, but he’s still one of my top ten players and could be a true sleeper.

DeAndre Hopkins (2) – He wasn’t nearly as explosive as I had hoped. His 40 yard dash was sub-par as was his broad jump. His shuttle time wasn’t just bad, it was the worst time at the combine for a receiver. His size is good, but I think he’s probably getting downgraded to a possession receiver role in the NFL.

Justin Hunter (7) – I mentioned him above, but I wanted to bring him up again. Reports are that he cut weight to try to run faster. I think he cut too much and it impacted some of his drills and how he looked. I think that even a score of 7 is a bit low for him.

Cordarrelle Patterson (5) – His combine was a little disappointing compared to the hype, but he still had some great numbers in the drills he did. He has a very intriguing skill set and outside of small hands, he is very close to the average of the top receivers.

Terrance Williams (3) – One of my favorites pre-combine, he had surprisingly small hands and arms for someone that is 6’2” and 208 pounds. Even with that, I still really like him. He will likely struggle with drops like Brandon Marshall, but he’ll be a very productive outside receiver.

Robert Woods (1) – I’m not really sure what to think of him. I loved him in 2011, but he struggled in 2012 and continued to struggle at the combine. All of his measurements were right around that one deviation below the average. In other words, he is below average pretty much across the board from a physical standpoint. I really don’t know what to make of him at this point. More research is needed.

This concludes the initial look at the rookie wide receivers. I’ll give an update of any important pro day happenings for this group once we get closer to the draft. Next on the list, running back analysis!

jacob feldman