Deon Butler through the Lens of History

It's tricky scouting a wide receiver without coaches' film. You don't see much and what you see can be misleading. The NFL has a sense of what it is doing. Simple things like the round Deon Butler was drafted in and how many wide receivers were selected before him provide important information. So does his height/weight/speed profile. The point here is to do a little pre-scouting to provide some perspective and define expectations.

Starting out, Butler was selected in the third round and was the 14th receiver selected in what looks now like a rich and deep wide receiver class. Wide receivers selected in the third round have about a 12% chance of making a single Pro Bowl, a 4% chance of making two and a 3% chance of making three or more. The fourteenth wide receiver selected in a draft class has a 10% chance of making a single Pro Bowl and 5% chance of making three or more. Third round selections average about three hundred yards per year and the fourteenth wide receiver selected averages about 150 yards per year. Those are all very modest predictions for Butler and are indicative of the high rate of failure among wide receivers selected in the middle and late rounds.

Butler doesn't have a great shot at being a superstar, but if he does somehow, what kind of profile does he fit? To figure out Butler's profile, I will use Rob Pitzer's work from Pro Football Prospectus 2008. In it he proposes four successful wide receiver types: Slight, short, thick and tall. He uses height and BMI to categorize each type. Butler, unfortunately for us and maybe unfortunately for Seattle is between types: not tall enough for "slight" and not heavy enough for "short". Michael Crabtree also fits between types, too thick to be "slight" and too tall to be "short". As Pitzer puts it, "Elite wide receivers come from relatively small intersections of height and BMI." Not to get too far afield, but Heyward-Bey misses, Maclin barely fits within "short", Harvin is "short", Nicks misses, Britt is "tall", Robiskie is "slight", Juaquin Iglesias misses and Mike Thomas is apparently too short to qualify. Butler added 14 pounds before running at the combine and would need to add another six or so to be "short". For the sake of projection we'll call Butler short and ignore that's he doesn't exactly fit. After all, building a system with the assumption that an athlete's weight is static seems like a shaky foundation.

So, to conclude all this, I'll pick five players that fit Butler's range of success.

 

Bust

Dexter Jackson: Jackson was drafted in 2008 and so it's early still, but he was bad in the preseason, didn't play wide receiver in a regular season game and had his return duties stripped after week seven. Physically, the two are near-duplicates. Jackson is 5'9 ½" and 182 pounds. He's a burner that is knocked around by bigger more physical defensive backs. He has decent hands but lets some balls into his body. Jackson ran a 4.37 forty. Jackson was taken in the late second round and was the tenth wide receiver taken in 2008.

Disappointment

Charlie Rogers: Seattle selected Charlie Rogers in the fifth round of the 1999 NFL draft. He was the 17th wide receiver selected. Rogers had one reception in his five year career, but was a very good if fumble-prone return man. Rogers was a 5'9", 180 lb burner from Georgia Tech.

Break Even

Todd Kinchen: The 5'11", 187 lb Kinchen was selected in the third round of the 1992 draft. He was the sixth wide receiver selected overall. Kinchen had a few productive seasons, but never started. He was a good kick and punt return man, but his speed faded as he aged. He finished his seven-year career with 95 receptions for 1,358 yards and 10 TDs.

Good

Don Beebe: Beebe was selected in the third round of the 1989 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. Beebe was the tenth wide receiver taken in a time when there were fewer teams and fewer teams running spread-style offenses. Beebe was a 5-11, 185 pound burner that was never great individually, but contributed to six Super Bowl teams. Beebe was bigger for his era than Butler.

Great

Derrick Mason: Mason was selected in the fourth round of the 1997 NFL draft. He was the ninth wide receiver taken. Mason was a standout return man at Michigan State and also a good receiver. He started his career in the NFL as a below average kick and punt return man, and z-string wide receiver. He had a breakout season returning in 1999 and a breakout season as a receiver in 2000. He ranks 30th all-time in reception yards with 10,061.

How rare is Mason? I just spent almost two hours finding him. The ranks of short/skinny/fast mid-round receivers is littered with failures and features only a few even modest successes. Preliminary analysis says he has a better shot of being a good return man than a good wide receiver. Of course, a player isn't defined by their type; they are partially defined by their type.

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