We have reached the week of the NFL Scouting Combine! This event can obviously carry a lot of weight for players, but it may be particularly important for some groups more than others. This year’s class of receivers is one of those groups; without a clear number one heading into the combine, the possibility seems quite likely that we will see some shifts in draft boards depending on how things shake out.
One player who I think this will be particularly critical for is Quentin Johnston. With his rare combination of size, speed, and NCAA production, he is at or near the top of the positional rankings for pass catchers this year. Reportedly, he is expected to run the 40-yard dash in the 4.3-4.4 range, and his vertical jump may exceed 40 inches. These are noteworthy numbers, especially for a player who stands 6’4” and weighs in north of 215.
A few current pros carry a similar physical and athletic profile. One who we are obviously quite familiar with is DK Metcalf. While Johnston doesn’t have all of Metcalf’s physical tools, he could potentially approximate the stunning numbers DK put up at the combine — officially listed by StatHead as 4.33 and 40.5”, respectively. Some other players who have combined this rare combination of size and speed? Since 2018, StatHead lists only four players who have been drafted who share these measurements. In addition to Metcalf, this includes Chase Claypool, Miles Boykin, and Alec Pierce. See the below table.
|2020||Chase Claypool||Notre Dame||6-4||238||4.42||40.5||Steelers||2.49|
|2019||Miles Boykin||Notre Dame||6-4||220||4.42||43.5||Ravens||3.93|
Of the above receivers, Metcalf has far and away been the most productive, followed distantly by Chase Claypool. Both were second round picks, but DK was an interesting case due to his relatively limited production in college, in part to the significant injury sustained in his final season of college. Of the other two, Boykin struggled with inconsistency as a rookie and hasn’t improved since then, ultimately leading to his release from the Baltimore Ravens prior to the 2022 season. Alec Pierce actually had an encouraging rookie campaign with the Indianapolis Colts, and in some ways he carries the closest similarity to Johnston in terms of play style and physicality.
Both Pierce and Johnston were primarily outside receivers with limited slot experience in college, and both were capable deep threats, to say the least. According to Pro Football Focus, Pierce had a career average depth of target (ADOT) of 16.8, and Johnston averaged 15.6. It should be noted, however, that Quentin averaged over 17 in his first two seasons at TCU before seeing a dip in his final year as his targets jumped significantly. Unfortunately, Miles Boykin shares a similar career ADOT (15.8) as Johnston. While these traits are impressive, there is no guarantee that they will translate to success in the NFL. The league is filled with incredible athletes, but only some of these players translate this to production. There is a statistic, however, that seemingly is much more important to success as a pro: drop rates.
Wide receivers who tend to drop the ball in college also tend to drop the ball as a pro. Not only this, but over the last five drafts, players with high drop rates in their final NCAA season have rarely even become productive receivers in the NFL. Since 2018, there have been only two receivers drafted in the first round who have had a drop rate worse than 10% in their final college season, according to StatHead and Pro Football Focus. Those two players? Fellow TCU receiver Jalen Reagor and former Minnesota Golden Gopher Rashod Bateman.
In their final college seasons, Reagor had a rate of 14% in 2019 and Bateman posted 14.3% in 2020. Both have shown promise, but neither has made a significant dent as a professional. Accordingly, each has struggled with drops as a pro. Bateman has a career rate of 11.6% and while Reagor looks better at 6.5%, he posted 10.8% in 2021 and has a cumulative reception percentage of 59.5% (not great). Quentin Johnston performed better than these guys overall, but his 11.8% rate last season is concerning. Of course, Johnston has much more impressive physical tools than either, but traits can’t always make up for fundamental inconsistencies.
Interestingly enough, 11% seems to be a significant cutoff with drops. That is, very few players have found much success in the NFL if they finished their final season at college with a rate at or worse than 11%. Over the last five drafts, there have been a couple exceptions — such as Darnell Mooney and Diontae Johnson, and to some extent Darius Slayton, who has been a solid contributor for the New York Giants. PFF lists those three as posting rates of 14.5%, 12.5%, and 18.6%, respectively, in their final NCAA seasons. Slayton has continued to struggle with drops as a pro, unsurprisingly. Furthermore, none of these three players were drafted higher than the third round.
Outside of the above listed players, the only other significant name that I could find was Marquez Valdes-Scantling. He shares what are possibly the closest athletic numbers with Johnston, as he stands at 6’4” and ran the 40 in a blazing 4.37, but his underwhelming vertical jump of 30.5” is noteworthy. He finished his season with the USF Bulls with a 14.5% drop rate. Similar to the above players, this has continued to be an issue, as his career rate as a pro is an even 9%. He was drafted in the 5th round, and while he did win a Super Bowl with the Kansas City Chiefs this past season, he has yet to surpass 1,000 yards in a single campaign, and has suffered from inconsistent play. He only managed to catch 4 of the 41 touchdowns thrown by Patrick Mahomes in 2022. Needless to say, if you draft a pass catcher in the first round, the hope will be that he turns into a more productive professional than Valdes-Scantling.
Quentin Johnston is an interesting prospect; he has elite physical tools, and his production last season is impressive. However, I see way too many issues with his performance to justify listing him as the best receiver in this class. In fact, I think that he may rank further down the list than some might expect, particularly if his combine numbers don’t match the projections listed above. But even if he does test as expected, I see plenty of other reasons to be concerned. Consider, for example, the fact that Kelee Ringo was able to essentially erase him from the National Championship game.
Kelee Ringo vs Quentin Johnston— NFL Rookie Watch (@NFLRookieWatxh) January 12, 2023
Ringo was not targeted ONCE when he was on Johnston pic.twitter.com/QbXXywgidZ
Of these two players, many analysts are projecting Johnston to come off the board before Ringo. This does not bode well for a prospect who is likely to be going up against competition like this on a weekly basis in the NFL. The biggest factor in Johnston’s favor this season is the relative uncertainty at the Wide Receiver position. That is, there isn’t a player at this point who looks like a lock to end up in the top half of the first round.
However, I see far more upside to some of the other guys who are entering the draft — particularly Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and even possibly Josh Downs, but more on them in another article. Teams will have a difficult decision to make regarding whether or not they believe that some of these inconsistencies can be solved through coaching and experience. Given the above data, however, I would suggest that the bust potential is high, and his floor is lower than you would typically like to see for a first round prospect.