2017 NFL Draft: Which College Wide Receivers Added the Most to Their Respective Offenses?
As the NFL offseason gets going, the draft talk is the first thing to ramp up. The NFL Combine is fast approaching, so the art of diving into prospect analysis is well underway.
For some, it’s easy to look at college prospects and determine what they did in their respective systems. Most times, it can be much harder to figure out how those skills will translate to the next level given how wildly different some schemes can be.
This is especially true for quarterbacks and wide receivers, who can be playing almost an entirely different sport given the conference or school.
In the case of wide receivers, I developed a stat a few years ago called Target Yards Added (TYA), to at least help separate what they contributed to the offense outside of the scheme. The idea behind it is fairly simple -- we take a receiver’s yards per target in his final college season and subtract the quarterback’s (there's usually more than one quarterback in college) yards per attempt.
The goal of TYA isn’t to create a ranking of receivers, but more to get an idea of how receivers were used and what they did to add value.
At this point, we have TYA data going back to the 2014 draft class. After posting an average of 1.8 TYA for the receivers included in 2014 and 2015, it dropped to 1.6 in 2016 before a new low of 1.35 for the 2017 draft class. That average is slightly skewed by a very low bottom of the class -- which we’ll get to later -- but the median for the 2017 class is also the lowest of the four years on record.
Looking at This Year's Group
There have been 36 wide receivers measured for this season, though that does not include FCS receivers Billy Brown and Cooper Kupp because the FCS is still in the stone-age when it comes to target stats.
Here’s how this year’s class looks by this metric.
|Shelton Gibson||West Virginia||8.17||13.21||72||951||5.03|
|Josh Reynolds||Texas A&M||7.10||10.94||95||1039||3.83|
|Jalen Robinette||Air Force||11.92||14.53||66||959||2.61|
|Carlos Henderson||Louisiana Tech||9.37||11.63||132||1535||2.26|
|Taywan Taylor||Western Kentucky||10.05||12.01||144||1730||1.96|
|Corey Davis||Western Michigan||9.37||10.87||138||1500||1.50|
|Kenny Golladay||Northern Illinois||6.71||7.97||145||1156||1.26|
|Fred Ross||Mississippi State||6.60||7.77||118||917||1.17|
|Trent Taylor||Louisiana Tech||9.37||10.45||174||1819||1.09|
|Damore'ea Stringfellow||Ole Miss||7.76||8.84||81||716||1.08|
|Noah Brown||Ohio State||6.83||7.73||52||402||0.90|
|Zay Jones||East Carolina||7.20||7.90||221||1746||0.70|
|Chris Godwin||Penn State||9.36||9.92||99||982||0.56|
|Travis Rudolph||Flordia State||8.15||8.57||97||831||0.41|
|Ryan Switzer||North Carolina||8.34||8.69||128||1112||0.35|
|Speedy Noil||Texas A&M||7.10||6.77||48||325||-0.33|
|Isiah Ford||Virginia Tech||8.20||7.76||141||1094||-0.44|
There’s a lot of numbers thrown around there, so let’s give them a little context with how they've reflected on the past draft classes.
The Low-Target, High TYA Receiver
These guys usually hang out near the top of the list, but weren’t the dominant-all-over-the-field receiver for their respective teams -- they’re typically the deep threats. But just because they’re not highly targeted doesn’t mean they can’t contribute.
A good example of this was Martavis Bryant in 2014. He was second in the class at 3.92 TYA, but had just 65 targets. Off-field issues aside, he’s translated that skill to the pro level.
2016 Candidates: Shelton Gibson, Josh Malone, Isaiah McKenzie, ArDarius Stewart, Jalen Robinette
Perceived Top-Tier Receiver With Average TYA
The receivers projected to be the best in the class rarely come out on the top in TYA. When they do, it’s special -- Mike Evans (first in 2014) and Josh Doctson (fourth in 2016) come to mind -- but it’s not a requirement.
2016 Candidates: Mike Williams, Corey Davis
High Volume, High TYA
Prospects in this area can be the most fun to dive into and it’s where some of the hidden gems can be. In the past, guys like Paul Richardson, Davante Adams, Allen Hurns, and Sterling Shepard had at least 100 targets and TYA of 1.85 or better.
2016 Candidates: Amba Etta-Tawo, Josh Reynolds, Carlos Henderson, Taywan Taylor
This is where some concern should start creeping in. Adding less than one yard per target has been shaky for the past few seasons. There are some successes, but mostly from the 2014 class.
Donte Moncrief, Brandon Coleman, Jarvis Landry, Willie Snead, and Marqise Lee were all below 1.0 and while they’ve all had some success, they haven’t been very consistent -- this is also depending on your feelings for Landry’s value.
In 2015, Sammie Coates fell below 1.0 even though he was considered a “deep threat” in the Auburn offense. He’s been disappointing since getting drafted by Pittsburgh.
Last year, the receiver who stood out here was Laquon Treadwell, who was rightly criticized for his inability to create separation, and his TYA results helped paint that picture. He failed to impress as a rookie while only playing 80 offensive snaps for the Minnesota Vikings, which included just 3 targets and 1 reception after being selected 23rd overall.
The difference between Treadwell’s and Mike Williams’ TYA is one reason I believe Williams’ perceived “lack of separation” is not nearly as big of a red flag for the Clemson receiver.
2016 Candidates: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Zay Jones, Chris Godwin, John Ross
Having negative Target Yards Added is the biggest red flag there’s been since the metric’s inception. There has yet to be a successful receiver from the group of 11 from 2014-16.
The most successful player of the group has been Ty Montgomery (-1.42) and he did not get there until he switched to running back this past season.
2016 Candidates: Jamari Staples, Speedy Noil, Isaiah Ford, Stacy Coley, Artavis Scott, Travin Dural
As mentioned before, Target Yards Added is not meant to be a catch-all statistic to rank the above receivers.
However, figuring out how a player performed in relation to the rest of their offense along with comparing them to other receivers over the past few years should help provide some more context as we get deeper into draft season.