Earlier this summer, Mookie Alexander wrote about the 2015 class of receivers and how Tyler Lockett had been among the most productive; while that may be surprising to many, to others it is the expected outcome of a decades-long trend.
Receiver is a difficult position to learn, with executives and coaches having lamented that it can sometimes take three or four seasons before a drafted receiver is ready to contribute at a significant level. In decades past this could often be attributed to the fact that many college teams ran run-first offenses, while receivers had limited route trees and thus possessed only a basic understanding of the demands of the position upon entering the NFL. With the growth in popularity of the spread offense and the corresponding expansion of pass-happy offenses, one would seem to expect receivers to be more ready to contribute upon reaching the pros.
I was curious if this was the case, so I — like Mookie before me — started looking at the receivers selected in the 2015 draft.
It is readily apparent that the receivers who came out of spread offenses in the 2015 draft, regardless of their physical talents, were not as productive as the Pro Style counterparts. Lockett was the ninth receiver taken and of the eight receivers chosen before him, only three have accumulated more receiving yards to this point in their careers: Amari Cooper (Alabama), Stefon Diggs (Maryland), and Jamison Crowder (Duke). What that means is that three of the top four (Crowder excluded) played at a college that ran a pro style offense, while only one played in a spread offense at Duke. Something in his favor is the fact that his college offensive coordinator, Scottie Montgomery, had previously served as the receivers coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Perhaps Crowder was even a step ahead of other college receivers playing in a spread system because he at least had some pro-level coaching.
Maybe then Pro Style receivers are at an advantage when coming into the Pros. That would be especially beneficial to the Seattle Seahawks this season, as third round rookie Amara Darboh comes from a Pro Style offense at Michigan under Jim Harbaugh.
Does recent history back this theory up?
Top Producing WRs from 2015 Draft
|Amari Cooper||2,223||Alabama||Pro Style|
|Stefon Diggs||1,623||Maryland||Pro Style|
|Tyler Lockett||1,261||Kansas State||Pro Style|
After looking at this for the 2015 draft, the logical next step was to look at the receivers selected in the 2014 draft. Once again, the results were similar. The receivers from the 2014 draft that have been the most productive in terms of receiving yards once again almost all played in a Pro Style offense during their time in the NCAA.
Top Producing WRs from 2014 Draft
|Odell Beckham||4,122||LSU||Pro Style|
|Mike Evans||3,578||Texas A&M||Spread|
|Jarvis Landry||3,051||LSU||Pro Style|
|Brandin Cooks||2,861||Oregon State||Pro Style|
|Allen Robinson||2,831||Penn State||Pro Style|
|Jordan Matthews||2,673||Vanderbilt||Pro Style|
Following similar results for both 2015 and 2014, I was pretty sure I was correct, and that playing in a Pro Style offense had definite advantages for receivers once they reach the NFL, so all I had to do was to look further back and evaluate even older drafts to cement my genius.
Top Producing WRs from 2013 Draft
|Robert Woods||2,451||USC||Pro Style|
|Tavon Austin||1,642||West Virginia||Spread|
Huh. Well, every now and again there are exceptions to every rule, so perhaps 2013 was nothing more than a blip on the radar - just some random noise created by the sheer number of college teams running some variant of the spread offense.
Top Producing WRs from 2012 Draft
|T.Y. Hilton||5,861||Florida Int.||Spread|
|Alshon Jeffery||4,549||South Carolina||Pro Style|
|Michael Floyd||3,781||Notre Dame||Spread|
|Rueben Randle||2,644||LSU||Pro Style|
|Mohamed Sanu||2,446||Rutgers||Pro Style|
|Travis Benjamin||2,360||Miami||Pro Style|
Well, so much for my theory and my legacy as an all knowing football deity.
Obviously, these sample sizes are small, so no definitive conclusions could be drawn either way as it would obviously take an evaluation of more than a couple dozen receivers to determine anything with certainty.
Time permitting this is a question I plan to return to in significantly greater detail in the future, because in terms of research and analysis this is nothing more than a cursory flyover from 30,000 feet and there are so many levels at which this could be evaluated and analyzed at a deeper level.
However, I’m still going to stick to my narrative that Amara Darboh has a leg up producing as a rookie because he played in a pro style offense in college, just like Tyler Lockett and Doug Baldwin did because all I have to do is ignore the fact that it didn’t matter for Kevin Norwood or Chris Harper.
It’s my narrative, and I’m sticking to it.