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Would John Ursua or Jazz Ferguson be more likely to clear waivers?

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NFL: Preseason-Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Monday, and the Seattle Seahawks are just days away from having to make some tough decisions regarding roster cuts when Saturday arrives and the team must make a couple dozen moves in order to get down to 53 players. Obviously, the Thursday game against the Oakland Raiders is on tap before those decisions must be made, but in the meantime I wanted to review some metrics on cuts and waiver claims since cries of pained agony are likely to be in hearty supply come Saturday evening.

So, before everyone starts declaring which player will be this year’s Kasen Williams, here’s a look at how waived players and the corresponding claims for cut down day have looked since the NFL went to a single cut down day in 2017. Obviously, the number of transactions listed for cut down day are significantly lighter in 2017 than in 2018, but it’s possible that this is because of the fact that 2017 was the first year that there was only one cut down day, and there were several teams that processed their transactions a day early. However, for the sake of simplicity (and my sanity) I have only evaluated the transactions which took place on the actual day of cuts. In addition, while most of the transactions are younger players being waived, the numbers in the table include both players placed on waivers and veterans who had their contracts terminated.

The difference between the two is that veterans with four or more accrued seasons are not subject to waivers, so they are “cut” and immediately become free agents. In contrast, players with three or fewer accrued seasons must be placed on waivers, giving each of the other 32 teams an opportunity to claim that player.

In any case, jumping to the data, here are the number of players cut and waived on cutdown day in each of the last two seasons, along with the percentage of those players who were claimed.

2017 cut day transactions and waiver claims by position

Position 2017 Cuts 2017 Waiver Claims Waiver Claim %
Position 2017 Cuts 2017 Waiver Claims Waiver Claim %
QB 32 2 6.25%
RB 66 2 3.03%
TE 58 2 3.45%
WR 131 5 3.82%
T 54 3 5.56%
G 62 2 3.23%
C 23 0 0.00%
OL 0 0 N/A
NT 6 1 16.67%
DT 64 2 3.13%
DE 49 1 2.04%
LB 105 2 1.90%
DB 125 5 4.00%
LS 6 1 16.67%
K 12 0 0.00%
P 5 0 0.00%

And for 2018.

2018 cut day transactions and waiver claims by position

Position 2018 Cuts 2018 Waiver Claims Waiver Claim %
Position 2018 Cuts 2018 Waiver Claims Waiver Claim %
QB 31 2 6.45%
RB 90 1 1.11%
TE 75 0 0.00%
WR 151 4 2.65%
T 75 4 5.33%
G 61 3 4.92%
C 32 3 9.38%
OL 1 0 0.00%
NT 14 2 14.29%
DT 65 1 1.54%
DE 76 3 3.95%
LB 111 3 2.70%
DB 183 11 6.01%
LS 6 0 0.00%
K 11 0 0.00%
P 8 2 25.00%

So, that brings us to the question in the article whether John Ursua or Jazz Ferguson would be more likely to be claimed off waivers. The two are completely different style of receivers. Ferguson is the tall, big-bodied red zone threat Pete Carroll and John Schneider have searched for since their arrival in Seattle in 2010. Ursua is a small, shifty receiver who is more in the mold of Tyler Lockett or Doug Baldwin and has lined up in the slot on the majority of snaps he’s seen so far in the preseason.

What do the physical characteristics of these two have to do with waiver claims? Well, here’s some interesting data that shows itself when analyzing the data. Specifically, here are the nine different wide receivers that have been claimed off waivers over the past two seasons, along with their listed height.

  • Tre McBride, 6’0”
  • Reggie Davis, 6’0”
  • Kasen Williams, 6’2”
  • Andy Jones, 6’1”
  • Matt Hazel, 6’1”
  • Tanner McEvoy, 6’6”
  • Amara Darboh, 6’2”
  • Chad Hansen, 6’2”
  • Kaelin Clay, 5’10”

Now, I didn’t take the time to search through all the cuts to get an exact data, but a sample of 71 of the wide receivers waived at final cuts showed that just over a third of them (26 of 71) were under six feet tall. In contrast, eight of the nine receivers claimed on waivers after final cuts in 2017 and 2018 were six feet tall or taller.

There is, of course, that one exception in Kaelin Clay, who was claimed by the New York Giants in 2018 after having been waived by the Buffalo Bills. Digging a bit deeper into the case of Clay to see if there could be something that would cause him to be an exception reveals a very interesting coincidence. First, Clay was entering his fourth season in the NFL in 2018, after having primarily spent the first three years of his career as a special teams player.

Specifically, over the course of the 2015 and 2017 seasons, Clay returned 42 punts, with two of those being taken all the way back for a touchdown. Of particular note is that on November 26, 2017 Clay returned a punt for a touchdown for the Carolina Panthers that proved to be the difference in a 35-27 victory over the New York Jets. That is of note because the GM for the Panthers up until the summer of 2017 was Dave Gettleman, who took over as the GM of the New York Giants at the end of the 2017 season. So, maybe it’s a coincidence or maybe it’s something of note, but nine months after Gettleman watched his former team defeat the Jets in part because of a punt returned for a touchdown Gettleman put in a waiver claim on the returner.

Whether it was actually that return, or the fact that Clay had returned two punts for touchdowns in his short career that led to him being claimed we can’t be certain. However, it does seem noteworthy that the only wide receiver under six foot tall claimed after being waived on cutdown day is a somewhat accomplished punt returner.

So, while there will certainly be plenty of debate in the days between now and roster cuts on Saturday, the numbers seem to show that Ursua would be less likely than Ferguson to be claimed on waivers. Of course, I’m the same guy who said that the numbers showed it was extremely unlikely that Kasen Williams would get claimed if he were waived in the build up to cutdown day in 2017, so take the numbers for what they are: a likelihood, and not a promise.