Do not reach big for a WR with big reach

Sidney Rice - Otto Greule Jr

A study of big wide receivers from the past and present of the NFL Draft.

About twelve days ago, during the "bye week" prior to the media week before the Super Bowl, with no football to watch, I just started looking at old NFL draft and combine numbers on WR. Of course, we all know and want the Seahawks to draft a big WR target for Russell Wilson for next year. But what we may not realize about our commonly perceived idea of what constitutes a big WR are a) how hard it is to find those big WR at all, b) what draft position it generally takes to get one, and c) what our focus should be on instead of the misconceived idea of a big WR.

I read a lot of your comments and wishes for the draft and many of you seem infatuated with the Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin, Brandon Coleman body type. Those three are all expected to measure over 6’5" and 220 pounds. In a sense, people want Big Mike Williams back. Problem is there are only a handful of those types even available each year, let alone available after #32 overall, and the majority available after #32 will become busts.

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Photo credit: Harry How

A ten-year history of the draft shows less than ONE receiver per year, of stature 6’4" or greater, becomes an impactful player in the NFL. At 6’5" I’m counting Calvin Johnson, Vincent Jackson, Mike Williams, Marques Colston, and at 6’4" the list is AJ Green, Sidney Rice, Brandon Marshall, and Riley Cooper. Eight guys. I’m probably missing some guys who weren’t at the combine and/or entered the league as UDFA. We’ll call it 10 total = 1 per year. And there was literally only one WR over 6’4" drafted in 2013: Justin Hunter, and I think it’s too soon to judge him.

The list of less-impactful "bigs" is much longer: Tyrone Goard, Brandon Kaufman, Rodney Smith, Jeff Fuller, Stephen Hill, Derek Moye, Brian Quick, Tommy Streeter, Deandre Brown, Tori Gurley, Kris Durham, Andre Holmes, Terrance Toliver, Seyi Ajirotutu, Stephen Williams, Ramses Barden, Aaron Kelly, Marko Mitchell. I stopped counting the misses before I got 10 years back, but the total number of hits and misses combined is less than 50 (five per year). You get the idea. So, can we agree on 8 (+/-2) impact big WR?

Now let’s consider where those guys were drafted. Three of eight were top 10 selections (Megatron, BMW, and AJ), so no one of that ilk will be available when the Hawks draft at #32. The next tier is the second rounders (Sidney-44 and VJax-61). And the last tier are the diamonds in the rough…the guys GM’s took fliers on late due to poor production, or small school, or poor combine, or character concerns (Marshall-119, Cooper-159, and Colston-252). Five players in 10 years representing five symbolic chances to find a true talent over 6’4" from the last draft position. Doesn’t seem like the kind of basket you put your eggs in.

To me, what is more interesting is the group of WR that measure up at 6’2" and 6’3". This is the group that historically features: Dwayne Bowe, Robert Meachem, Cordarelle Patterson, Terrence Williams, Keenan Allen, Marvin Jones, Steve Johnson, Miles Austin, Braylon Edwards, Julio Jones, Michael Floyd, Kenny Britt, Jordy Nelson, Josh Gordon, Alshon Jeffery, Eric Decker, Jacoby Jones, etc. See any names you like in that group? That seems like a list of guys that look and play pretty big. Can this be the definition of a big WR? They certainly still look bigger than most of the league’s corners (for now).

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Photo credit: Justin Edmonds

Now let’s eliminate the 1st rounders: no Braylon, Julio, Floyd, Bowe, Meachem, Patterson, Britt. Lost some good names, but we still have Jordy, Gordon, Alshon, Decker, Austin, Jones, Johnson, Williams, and Allen. That modified list actually comprises a third of this year’s top 12 receivers (5 of the top 12 receivers were drafted high-mid 1st round). Add in the occasional 6’1" guy (Torrey Smith, Pierre Garcon, Nuk Hopkins), factor in the fact that the Seahawks don’t look like they’re going to have more than 40 receptions to give a rookie receiver in a run-first offense that will also likely feature Percy, Golden, Doug, and Kearse (some of the stars of Super Bowl XLVIII)…how much do we really need to focus on the Brandon Coleman’s of this draft? How much do we really need to target a WR in the first round? Or even the second, for that matter??

I was starting to turn the corner on this idea before the Super Bowl. I’m definitely on a new street since the Super Bowl, where our current WR corps were as dazzling as they needed to be in whatever number of reps we needed to throw. #Efficiency

This may not be painting the picture clearly enough. Let’s try to equate successful players of past drafts to WR coming out this year with comparable size, skillset, and draft projection to see if this is a philosophical position I can convince you to join me in.

Jordy Nelson 6’3’/217 – Draftpick #2.36

I said this a few months back on twitter: I think the comp Jordy is Jordan Matthews. 6’3"/209 and currently nfldraftscout’s 49th overall. Jordy ran a respectable 4.51 forty at the combine in 2008, and I’d expect Matthews to be around 4.55 in straight-line speed. Neither gets tagged as particularly explosive. Both play fantastic on deep balls. In their Senior years, Nelson caught 122 passes for 1606 yards (13.16ypc), and 11 TD while Matthews caught 112 passes for 1477 yards (13.19ypc), and 7 TD. The YPC similarity is eerie (to go along with the similarity in their names and jersey numbers).

Josh Gordon 6’3"/220 – Draftpick #2.39 (Browns’ 2013 pick forfeited from supplemental draft)

This one is really tough. I’m gonna comp Gordon to Fresno State’s Davante Adams. Adams is around 6’2"/216 so the physical size is similar. But both Gordon and Adams seem like more unique players without obvious comps.

Honestly, if I had to make a pro comp for Adams (who currently holds late-2nd round buzz at #58 overall) I tend to lean toward Golden Tate. There’s something about both of these guys when the ball is in the air. They just seem to have better proprioception than everyone in the game. They also seem to share a common ability to NOT look like they’re moving very fast. But Golden ran the forty at the combine in 4.42 (!!) and I’ve read that Adams expects to run between 4.46 and 4.50 at the combine, even though many draft media types think he is slower. Both have great hops (Golden tested at 39" vert and Adams will probably be best jumper at combine pushing over 43"). Neither would be considered elite hands-catchers; both are capable of lapses in concentration, but neither have bad hands. Both have sneaky suddenness with decent RAC. The big difference is: Davante Adams 6’2"/216 to Golden’s 5’10"/202.

And of course there are some natural differences that come from Golden having a lower center of gravity (Golden breaks more tackles and maintains better balance, while Adams has bigger catch radius and has been a redzone monster), but I still watch the tape and see a stretched out Tate. Golden was drafted at #2.28 and I’ve seen a lot of Adams coming off around the Redskins pick at #3.02 in mock drafts. I actually see Davante drafted earlier than both of those…around #2.10. It would require Hawks to pull on Adams in the 1st round, or at a short trade-back slot.

Alshon Jeffery 6’3"/216 – Draftpick #2.45

Jeffery was infamously much larger than 216lbs during his final year at South Carolina, so I’m going with a player that is listed a bit bigger: Ole Miss’ Donte Moncrief. Moncrief is around 6’3"/226 currently and, much like Alshon, he had a really disappointing final season after entering the year regarded as one of the top 5 WR in the class. Final tally: Jeffery-49/762/15.55ypc/8TD, Moncrief-59/938/15.90/6TD. I’m still skeptical of what Jeffery would be if he didn’t have Brandon Marshall across from him, and I feel similar about what Moncrief will become in the pros. Moncrief is currently #118 overall (4th round).

Terrance Williams 6’2"/208 – Draftpick 3.12

Keenan Allen 6’2"/206 – Draftpick 3.14

I’m keeping Williams and Allen together because, as you can see, on paper they’re practically identical AND they were drafted two spots apart in the same 2013 class. Allen was thought to be the better player prior to 2012 season, but due to low production, poor forty time, and a failed drug test at combine Allen fell below Williams. Both had solid rookie years, but Allen clearly showed superior play. I really don’t have a comp for either of these two in the 2014 class. I’m slotting BYU receiver Cody Hoffman here…primarily to comp him to Allen.

Allen was very highly regarded going into the 2012 college season, but due to injuries, lack of production, very slow 40 time, and some character concerns, he fell from the 1st to the 3rd. Cody is treading a similar path.

Hoffman probably rolls closer to 6’4"/220, but he’s often listed at 6’3"/210. The big knocks on him have been lower production in 2013 than 2012 (some of this was eradicated by big games at the end of 2013), and that he will likely run a slow 40. In terms of production, take a look at the seasons both Allen and Hoffman had in their years BEFORE their "dropoff" in their draft season: Allen- 98/1343/13.70ypc/6TD, Hoffman-100/1248/12.48ypc/11TD. And now the production in their final years: Allen- 61/737/12.08ypc/6TD, Hoffman- 57/894/15.68ypc/5TD.

Hoffman is projecting available at 3.12/3.14 (much later in fact: #209 overall = 6th round), but I just have this funny feeling a) that he's picked much earlier than 6th, b) he'll be a better pro than even I've given him credit for. He runs surprisingly well after the catch for a big man.

Eric Decker 6’3"/217 – Draftpick #3.23

For Decker’s comp, we stay in the Big10 conference where he came from (Minnesota), and find Indiana’s Cody Latimer. This comp came to me immediately upon watching Latimer for the first time recently. I find him surprisingly smooth for his 6’3"/215 build. On tape, Latimer seems a well-rounded WR, with good route-running, good speed, good jumping ability, and above-average hands. Although their season counting stats look very different, the YPC show a similar result: Decker-50/758/15.16ypc/5TD (only 9 games), Latimer-72/1096/15.22ypc/9TD (12 games). Also similar players in receptions/gm: Decker-5.6, Latimer-6.0. I’d project Latimer to be a really capable WR2, and an absolute steal if you get him at his draftscout ranking of #171 overall. More likely, I think he’s a 3rd round guy. Oh yeah, and I like his blocking.

Marvin Jones 6’2"/199 – Draftpick 5.31

I don’t actually have much memory of Marvin Jones in college, but based on size and production I’m going to put Alabama’s Kevin Norwood here. Norwood is 6’2"/197 and was underutilized in the Tide’s run-heavy offense: Jones-62/846/13.65ypc/3TD, Norwood-38/568/14.95/7TD. I think Norwood is a nice value at #193 overall due to his hands and ability to highpoint. A clear redzone asset if given the chance.

Steve Johnson 6’2"/210 – Draftpick 7.17

Without really going back and looking at Johnson’s play style, and just trusting my memory’s impressions, I’m comping him to Nebraska’s Quincy Enunwa. Actually, I think the upside comp for Enunwa might be Anquan Boldin, but Boldin was drafted in the 2nd, and I think Enunwa is looking like a day 3 pick per the buzz.

Enunwa is 6’2"/227 (Boldin 6’1"/222) and this year for the Cornhuskers showed some great skills, especially in the redzone. He racked up 51/753/14.76ypc/12TD. Those 12 TD’s put Q in a tie with names like Watkins, Evans, Huff, Green-Beckham, and Parker for 10th in the country in receiving scores.

Now, just for kicks, and because this has been a fun exercise, I thought I would run comps on the WR’s from past drafts over 6’4" to see if there’s anything this year projectably similar.

Vincent Jackson 6’5"/230 – Draftpick 2.29

6’5"/230 dudes that run 4.46…and then drop to late 2nd round…hahaha…yeah right. It would have to be some small school guy (like VJax was) that we haven’t even heard of yet. Only known entity that is remotely close would be Brandon Coleman.

Marques Colston 6’5"/224 – Draftpick 7.44

Actually, Brandon Coleman’s game reminds me more of Colston than it does VJax, but there isn’t much chance Coleman falls to the 7th round (without off-field redflags popping up). Another name that fits the late-round/UDFA aspect of Colston’s route to the NFL could be Utah’s Anthony Denham. Listed at 6’4"/222, Denham is a rocked out specimen of a receiver. He’s so big, in fact, that it appears he’s headed to the combine as a TE. Rarely used at Utah behind WR1 Dres Anderson, WR2 Sean Fitzgerald, and TE1 Jake Murphy, on a team that finished 96th in the country in completions, Denham finished this year with only 24 catches for 291 yards and 2 TD’s. But I don’t mind the tape.

Sidney Rice 6’4"/200 – Draftpick 2.12

I’ve got two names I vacillate between for the Sidney comp. And it’s probably tough for me because Sidney is closer to our hearts than others on this list. I’m torn between Clemson’s 6’4"/200 Martavis Bryant (obviously a physical twin), and Pittsburgh’s 6’4"/195 Devin Street (possibly only 6’3", but close enough). I think I want the answer here to be Street cause I like him better, but after going back and watching Rice’s college tape from SC, I think the answer is Bryant.

I think Bryant is still a very raw receiver. I don’t think he should have declared this year when he still had a year of eligibility remaining. It’s very easy to see his upside, and his production of 42/828/19.71ypc/7TD is pretty enticing (especially that deep-threat number: 19.71ypc = 9th in NCAA). As his tape currently stands, I think he’s a 4th round project needing two years to develop. As his projection currently stands, I think he could get drafted as high as the 2nd. That is simply too rich for my blood.

So why do I think Bryant is the comp for Rice? Because, while Devin Street may remind me more of Seattle Seahawk Sidney Rice, Martavis Bryant reminds me more of South Carolina Gamecock Sidney Rice. It’s Sidney’s college tape. And it is not as polished as the player we’ve come to know as a pro in the last 3 years. It’s also worth noting that the Rice we’ve known in the last 3 years in Seattle wasn’t the one that first showed up in Minnesota. Rice’s first two seasons as a Viking: 46 catches for 537 (11.7ypc) and 8 TD. Actually, it’s really just that YPC number that I find unimpressive, as all but two of Rice’s pro seasons never broke into double digits for games played, and he only topped 40 catches twice. But his YPC was very consistently 15.0 or higher the last five years.

This brings us to where we stand today. Ian Rapoport recently reported what Davis Hsu and most of the town have figured for months: that his sources say Rice will be cut. It’s a salary cap move, maybe with health question undertones, but it’s coming. But it won’t be terrible. Hawks went 9-2 (including playoffs) without Sidney this year…Harvin should pick up some of the slack for missing Rice next year…a rookie receiver can pick up another chunk…and Rice himself could come back on a cheaper deal, play the first 8 games while the rookie gets settled, and still post more than his 15 catches from 2013.

15 catches. That’s what Rice posted this year. 50 last year. That’s the high end of what Seattle should be looking for from a draft WR. Doug Baldwin posted 51 his rookie year and 50 this year. Jermaine Kearse had 3 catches last year and 22 this year. The way this team is constructed and managed; we do not NEED a #1 WR in the draft. We just need a guy that brings some different and unique traits to the existing WR corps. We need a guy bigger than our current biggest: Kearse (6’1"/212). We need a guy with larger catch radius and some sinister ups. We need a guy that can own the reds: redline and redzone. We need a guy that causes some varying mismatches for opposing defenses. But even these needs aren’t dire. We just won a Super Bowl without them. Maybe they’re just "wants".

As of today, I want the Hawks to hold off on WR until a tradeback spot in the 3rd round. It probably means missing on Jordan Matthews, Odell Beckham, and possibly Davante Adams…all players I very much like. But if it means picking from Martavis Bryant, Donte Moncrief, Devin Street, Cody Latimer, Cody Hoffman…I can deal with that. Two of those names might be in my top 5 WR values in this class anyways. And I love me some draft value. I also love me some sleepers…one or two of which I haven’t even mentioned in public. Gotta save a couple reveals for May!

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