Which Wide Receiver Prospects Were Most Efficient in 2019?
The rookie receiver class from 2019 came with some high hopes, and we actually had some players produce immediately on the field for our fantasy teams.
Nine rookie receivers averaged at least 10 PPR points per game, and that's definitely not nothing. And just in terms of on-field impact, we saw A.J. Brown and Deebo Samuel boast big roles on teams that made deep playoff runs. I'm still a sucker for Terry McLaurin, too, who excelled despite a terrible situation in 2019.
The incoming draft class is rated quite well and is quite deep, too, so who stands out in terms of per-target efficiency?
Obviously, team and opportunity matter a ton when projecting how receivers will translate to the next level, but figuring out which combine-invited receivers really did excel in 2019 isn't a bad place to start our search for 2020's stud receivers.
While we at numberFire generate success rates at the NFL level based on whether or not a play increases expected scoring according to our Net Expected Points metric, we can't replicate that expected-points approach at the NCAA level.
Instead, I've combined collegiate play-by-play data and applied the FootballOutsiders' success rate methodology to determine success rates, based on necessary yardage to gain a first down on each target a receiver saw.
However, rather than relying solely on individual success rates, which can be heavily influenced by team success, situation, and overall offensive philosophy, I have also derived the success rate of the teammates of each player in order to find levels of separation from teammates. This should help level the playing field and shed light on which wideouts were efficient within their own situations.
Aaron Parker and Isaiah Coulter from Rhode Island and quarterback convert Malcolm Perry from Navy don't qualify for the results.
One pretty astounding piece of data here is how impactful these combine-invited receivers were for their offenses. The combined target success rate for all pass-catchers with at least 30 targets this past year was 48.8%. These receivers posted a target success rate of 53.0%. Their teammates' averages without their data in the mix? 44.0%. That's pretty astounding. It's the difference between almost 10 positive plays per 100. Of course, it makes sense when remove these high-volume, efficient receivers from the numbers.
So, here are the receivers who outperformed their teammates most in 2019.
|Omar Bayless||Arkansas State||60.3%||38.7%||21.6%|
|Isaiah Hodgins||Oregon State||60.9%||41.1%||19.8%|
|Kendrick Rogers||Texas A&M||61.2%||43.8%||17.4%|
|Cody White||Michigan State||53.5%||38.0%||15.5%|
|Bryan Edwards||South Carolina||49.5%||35.6%||13.9%|
|Binjimen Victor||Ohio State||65.2%||53.1%||12.1%|
|Chase Claypool||Notre Dame||52.9%||41.0%||12.0%|
|Brandon Aiyuk||Arizona State||50.0%||39.2%||10.8%|
|Michael Pittman Jr.||USC||59.1%||48.3%||10.8%|
|Stephen Guidry||Mississippi State||52.3%||41.8%||10.4%|
|Dezmon Patmon||Washington State||58.5%||49.4%||9.2%|
|Laviska Shenault Jr.||Colorado||48.0%||40.0%||8.0%|
|Lynn Bowden Jr.||Kentucky||41.5%||34.4%||7.1%|
|KJ Hamler||Penn State||49.4%||43.7%||5.7%|
|Quez Watkins||Southern Mississippi||47.8%||42.8%||5.0%|
|K.J. Hill||Ohio State||56.5%||54.2%||2.3%|
|Darrell Stewart Jr.||Michigan State||42.2%||41.0%||1.1%|
|Quartney Davis||Texas A&M||46.1%||45.5%||0.6%|
|Chris Finke||Notre Dame||43.6%||44.4%||-0.7%|
|Henry Ruggs III||Alabama||51.1%||53.7%||-2.6%|
|John Hightower||Boise State||43.0%||45.6%||-2.6%|
Tony Brown leads the pack with a pristine 64.9% target success rate, which dominated the rate for the rest of the Colorado Buffaloes of just 36.3%. Brown had an 18.3% target share, which ranked only 33rd among 51 wideouts in the dataset. The Texas Tech transfer doesn't profile with much draft clout and is not the Colorado receiver with high expectations. That'd be Laviska Shenault Jr., who is projected to be a second-round pick.
Lawrence Cager is another late-round or undrafted prospect who rates out well in this comparison. The Georgia Bulldog had just a 10.1% target share, ranking him 50th among these 51 players. SEC mate Jauan Jennings from Tennessee had a top-15 target share and yards per catch rate but is also projected to be a draft day afterthought.
Here we go, baby. Omar Bayless -- the Arkansas State Red Wolve (Wolf? Is it Red Wolf?) -- feasted in 2020. He ranked 11th in yards per catch, 7th in yards per target, and 12th in target success rate, and 5th in overall target share. He has just a sixth-round projection and ran a 4.62-second 40-yard dash, good for a 93.1 speed score (placing him in the 46th percentile among receiver prospects historically).
And now we have our first true stud on the list: Tee Higgins from Clemson. Higgins was fourth in this group in yards per catch, and the 6'4", 216-pounder rates out as a 73rd-percentile athlete in height-adjusted speed score.
As for some other front-half draft prospects who rate out well, we have Justin Jefferson, Denzel Mims, Michael Pittman Jr., Chase Claypool, Brandon Aiyuk, Shenault Jr., Gabriel Davis, and Jalen Reagor.
You've probably noticed by now some big names at the bottom of the list, primarily CeeDee Lamb and Henry Ruggs III, who ranked 18th and 27th in target success rates, respectively, and performed worse than their teammates in 2019.
So we don't need to panic or anything, as they were still good based on their actual target success rate rankings, but their teammates were some of the most efficient in the sample. The bigger concern for Ruggs is a 13.0% target share, but he still ran a 4.27-second 40-yard dash and has an elite ceiling.
Efficiency is merely a piece of a very large puzzle when looking at wide receivers, especially because quarterback play at the NCAA level can vary so widely between teams. That's a key reason why I like to look at value relative to teammates to help adjust.
The biggest takeaway, honestly, is that a lot of these receivers rated out very, very well in this context, which speaks to the depth of the class.
Perhaps what the data -- seeing how poorly their teams operated without some of these guys -- shows best is how impactful a lot of these players were on the field in 2019.
Also, Tee Higgins is a boss.