Wide Receiver Combine Analysis: Part Three

Jacob Feldman

I recently put together a few different articles outlining and examining my system for evaluation the combine performances of the entire 2014 wide receiver class. If you missed any of those you can go back and take a look at part 1 and part 2 of the general outline so you at least understand the metric and the method for arriving at it. During those two articles, I spend a lot of time focusing on the lesser known draft prospects, be they good or bad. I mostly skipped over the bigger names we all know about. Now is my chance to give those bigger names their due.

These are my top receivers for the 2014 draft class, without knowing what teams they are going to be playing for in the fall. The draft can of course change things, but from a pure talent perspective these are my top players. They are in order of their scores using my combine analysis metric.

Odell Beckham (5.512)


I was more than a little shocked to see Beckham in the top spot, especially by over a 2 point margin over the next closest receiver and 2.6 points over the next receiver in my top ten. In fact, Beckham’s score is higher than all NFL receivers not named Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, or Andre Johnson. A score at this level is rare, and the fact that the score was produced by a receiver less than six feet tall makes it even more special. If you put any stock in physical abilities, you need to be looking long and hard at Beckham.

He is a little shorter than what we normally see out of a top wide receiver, but he is very solidly built and has the hands and arms of a receiver several inches taller. His 40 yard dash time of 4.43 seconds is faster than most and his jumps also showed above average explosion. The real measurements that separate Beckham from the group are his 20 yard shuttle and three cone drill times. Both of his times were in the top 2.5% of NFL wide receivers. This means he has elite acceleration and deceleration abilities. He is also elite in his ability to keep his speed up while changing directions.

When you watch Beckham play, you can see all of these traits rising to the top. He shows good but not great speed vertically but is extremely fluid in and out of breaks. He is also very quick off the line and excels at getting around press coverage with his change of direction and acceleration skills. His route running could stand to see a little refinement and due to his size he does lose some contested balls. He could stand to add a little bit more muscle to his frame to help with the contested balls, but even without it the upside is huge.

Donte Moncrief (2.911)

The size-speed freak landed second on this list of my top ten prospects. Moncrief has nice height at 6’2” and a very nice build for that height at 221 pounds. His 4.40 second time in the 40 yard dash is really good for his size and he showed very good explosiveness in the jumps, showing off his physical abilities. While none of his measurements were in the elite range or even in the near-elite range, none of the others were much below average. He does have small hands and is slightly below average in the shuttle and three cone drill, but that’s about it in terms of physical knocks against him.

The biggest concerns for Moncrief come up in his 2013 game film. In 2012, he was a beast and seemed to be very quickly rising up the ranks of the college wide receivers. He didn’t live up to the hype in 2013. He struggled running routes and going over the middle of the field. He also fought a lot of balls and either caught them in his body or dropped them outright. He also didn’t win nearly as many contested balls as you would like someone of his size to do. Fortunately, a lot of this can be fixed. He is still young and if a coaching staff can get back the player from 2012 and improve upon that framework, they could have a player with a chance to be the top target on a team. He isn’t going to be elite, but the upside is pretty high. Think a bigger, more explosive Pierre Garcon for an upside. There is some risk involved because there are a lot of things to fix.

Brandin Cooks (2.593)

Cooks was one of the biggest breakouts of the combine. Of course anyone who knew much about Cooks heading into the combine fully expected him to be near the top of the list of combine performers. My biggest fear heading into the combine was that Cooks would measure smaller than his college listing, as a lot of college players tend to do. Fortunately, he still checked in at 5’10” and his 189 pound weight is acceptable for his height. As you might expect from someone of his height, his arms are short but he does have fairly large hands.

Of course where he really shined was in the speed department. His 4.33 time in the 40 yard dash was one of the best times for the entire combine. It got better though when he stepped onto the field for his shuttle run. His 3.81 second time in the 20 yard shuttle run is beyond elite and one of the best ever at the combine. In other words, his ability to stop and start is better than any starting receiver in the NFL. Add in the near elite straight line speed and change of direction abilities and you get someone who is extremely dangerous on the field.

In college, Cooks was one of the most prolific receivers in 2013. His quickness, elusiveness, and acceleration were definitely on display. The only real knock against him boils down to his size. He struggles to go up and get balls and he does get jammed at the line of scrimmage from time to time. He also has a small catch radius thanks to his shorter arms. I’m not sure he has the frame to put on more muscle without losing speed, so his role is slightly in question. Is he a slot receiver or an outside receiver? Either way, he’s a prospect with massive upside.

Mike Evans (2.451)

Evans is without a doubt the best of the big bodied receivers in this draft and it isn’t even close. Anyone else who is 6’2” or taller pales in comparison to him. His 6’5”tall frame checks in at a solid 231 pounds. Add in a combine best wingspan and you get a player with the size of the great Megatron. Unfortunately he doesn’t quite have the speed of Megatron. That isn’t saying that his speed is poor, it just isn’t on the same near elite level as the best receiver in the game. Evans clocked in at 4.53 seconds in the 40 yard dash which is a very respectable time for someone of his size. All of the rest of his drills were right around the average for the baseline group, which were the fantasy WR2s or better for the last few years.

When you watch Evans on tape, his strength and leaping ability become clear pretty quickly. He can go up and get the ball with the best of them which you would expect from a converted basketball player. His route running isn’t great, which could just be a product of the Johnny Manziel offense he played in, but he’ll need to improve it to be truly effective in the NFL. He isn’t going to burn past defenders and has only average acceleration, but with his size he should still stand a very solid chance at being at least a WR2 in fantasy leagues. If he can refine his route running, he could easily jump up to the WR1 ranks.

Allen Robinson (1.917)

A few months ago, Robinson was in the discussion for the fourth receiver in this draft class if you asked most ‘experts’. Since then opinions on how have slowly been cooling off while the opinions of several other receivers have been taking off, causing Robinson to slide into the bottom half of the top ten receivers on most boards. At the combine, he measured in with fairly good size at 6’2” and 220 pounds. His hand and arm size were both pretty average as well. The item that stuck in most people’s minds is the image of him running a 4.6 second time in the 40 yard dash. While that is definitely not good, it is only a part of the picture for his combine. After all, he still had the fifth highest score for his combine performance! He was actually above average in his jumps and near elite in his shuttle run.

What does all of that mean for Robinson? He has nice size, good explosiveness, and great acceleration/deceleration. He’s just lacking top end speed. If there is one item that is slightly overrated in the NFL it is straight line long speed. How often does any NFL player run in a straight line for 40 yards? Robinson has a quick first step, runs nice routes, and has the ability to go up and get balls. He also excels at winning at the point of the catch. He isn’t the fastest, but he’ll make a great possession receiver at the next level. Don’t discount him too much just because of his straight line speed.

Jordan Matthews (1.707)

Matthews is the other receiver who seemed to be neck and neck with Robinson for the fourth receiver on the board a few months ago. Like Robinson, he has fallen down boards a little bit as of late, mostly due to other receivers rising up. Matthews made a lot of noise during Senior Bowl practices, but he failed to show up big during the actual game. Personally, I put more stock into the practices than the game itself, but it was still a little disappointing he didn’t do much.

Matthews has some nice height to him at 6’3” and comes with very large hands and long arms. He’s a little bit underweight though at 212 pounds and it could lead to him getting pushed around a bit in the NFL if he doesn’t bulk up just a little bit. His speed drills were almost exactly on the average of the baseline group but just slightly above, so he’ll fit into the NFL very nicely from that side of things. The jumps were just slightly below average, but they were also very close.

When you watch him play, you see a polished route runner who isn’t afraid to go over the middle or make the tough catch. He shows good hands the majority of the time though a few throws do get into his body when he loses focus. Much like Robinson, he did struggle to create separation from time to time, forcing him to win contested balls, which he usually did. He isn’t going to be the top receiver on a team, but he has the ability to be a very solid compliment.

Davante Adams (-0.146)

In terms of combine performance and physical match for the NFL, there is a fairly big gap between Matthews and the others previously mentioned and Adams. That isn’t to say Adams or any of the players below had a bad combine as a score of zero would be exactly average for fantasy WR2s or better, it just means he isn’t above average like the others.  In the size department, the 6’1”, 212 pound receiver was very average with the exception of very small hands. He showed very nice leaping ability and was able to carry a lot of speed when changing direction, but his top end speed as well as his acceleration was a little lacking. At his size I would have liked to see something a little faster than 4.56 seconds in the 40 yard dash.

During games, he had the benefit of playing with one of the better college quarterbacks, which makes it a little bit difficult to effectively grade him at times. He did show the ability to go up and get balls when needed though and did a very nice job of catching the ball with his hands, even though they are smaller than ideal. He was a great red zone target and did a nice job of tracking down long throws, but he definitely seemed to lack some of the explosiveness you like to see from receivers who are a little bit on the smaller side. He seemed to take a long time to get up to speed at times and was jammed more often than I expected. He is a little raw in terms of running routes, but there is also some upside here. He could be a solid complimentary receiver in the NFL.

Sammy Watkins (-0.529)

The best receiver in the 2014 draft class didn’t set the world on fire at the combine, but that wasn’t expected of him. Watkins isn’t the top receiver in his class because of his physical attributes. He isn’t the physical specimen in the Calvin Johnson or Julio Jones type of mold. For that reason, he isn’t a receiver at their level. Instead he’s a step down from them. He probably won’t ever be a top five wide receiver in the NFL. He just isn’t built like that, but he is a very talented, very skilled receiver who should be a fantasy WR1 for years to come.

In terms of the combine, Watkins is almost the exact average of the top fantasy WRs in terms of size, speed, and explosiveness. His 6’1”, 211 pound frame isn’t big but certainly isn’t small either. The best news for Watkins is he is a better football player than he showed at the combine. His 4.43 second time in the 40 yard dash is slightly faster than average, but he seemed to play even faster than that. When you watch him on the field, he is definitely a nearly elite playmaker. He is one of the best players with the ball in his hand that we have seen in recent years. He caught an awful lot of screen passes and short crossing routes but still averaged 14.5 yards per catch. You don’t do that without being a dynamic athlete.

Marquise Lee (-0.686)

When Lee was a Freshman and chose to go to USC, he was talked about as potentially being the next Calvin Johnson. Ever since then, his stock has slowly been falling. Heading into the 2013 season, he was thought of as a very good but not quite elite prospect. Between poor play on the field around him and an assortment of injuries, his stock has slipped even more since this time last year.

At the combine, he measured in smaller than many had hoped across the board. He’s 6’0” and a too lean 192 pounds. His hands are average sized, but his arms are a little bit on the short end. His top end speed was a little bit below average, but his jumps were an equal amount above average. His shuttle run was also in the near elite category. As a whole, he was slightly below average mostly due to his size.

When you look back over his college career, you see a receiver who has great burst and is very good after the catch. He also has an extremely high football IQ and seems to know what the defenders are going to do before they do it. This allows him to make plays from time to time that very few can make. There are some that wonder if his multitude of injuries last year were a sign he is going to struggle with durability throughout his career. He has the skills to be the top receiver on a NFL team, but there are some risks involved here.

Kelvin Benjamin (-1.649)

The biggest receiver in the draft class, Benjamin has a massive 6’5”, 240 pound frame. Everything about his is big from his wingspan to his hands to the way he plays the game. Of course the downside of Benjamin is that he isn’t an elite athlete and the combine showed that. His 40 yard dash time was 4.61 seconds, his three cone drill was 7.33 seconds, and his shuttle run was only 4.39 seconds. He isn’t fast nor is he quick, but he is big. When you can stand flat footed and reach almost nine feet in the air, you don’t need to be that fast.

If you watched the national championship game, you saw exactly who Benjamin is on the field. He can use his body to box out just about any defender. He can go up and over the top of defenses, and he is a mismatch no matter where he lines up on the field. On the down side, he isn’t a great athlete and isn’t a very smooth route runner. He also makes his fair share of mistakes from being in the wrong spot at the wrong time to just dropping passes that hit him right in the hands. He has the one thing you can’t teach though, and that is a massive frame. I question what kind of role he’ll have in the NFL outside of a red zone threat because he is pretty raw in terms of playing wide receiver. None the less, the upside is huge.

With all of this, I think it is only fair that I take a stab at ranking these ten players with everything that I’ve seen and done up to this point in time. These rankings will clearly change as the next month or so plays out and then of course the NFL draft. Here’s my top ten for now. The gaps between the tiers are fairly significant while the gaps within the tiers are pretty small.

Tier 1:

1)      Sammy Watkins
2)      Mike Evans

Tier 2:

3)      Brandin Cooks
4)      Odell Beckham

Tier 3:

5)      Jordan Matthews
6)      Marquis Lee
7)      Allen Robinson
8)      Donte Moncrief

Tier 4:

9)      Davante Adams
10)   Kelvin Benjamin

That’s it for my look at wide receivers and their combine performance. Time for me to get started on the running back class! Thanks for reading!

jacob feldman