Wide Receiver Prospects, Part 2: What About the Other Conferences?

In Part 1 of this study, I looked at Pac-12 receivers drafted in the first three rounds since 2000 and concluded their hit rate was astonishingly low. However, such a conclusion must be verified, and so I decided to compare the Pac-12’s hit rate with that of the other conferences.

(I’m just going to apologize in advance for the tables breaking the blog. I haven’t quite figured that out yet.)

I did a brief look over the tables, and decided to start with the SEC, perhaps the starkest contrast to the Pac-12…

1st 2nd 3rd
2000 Travis Taylor Florida 10 2002 Jabar Gaffney Florida 33 2000 Darrell Jackson Florida 80
2000 Donte’ Stallworth Tennessee 13 2002 Josh Reed LSU 36 2003 Kelley Washington Tennessee 65
2004 Michael Clayton LSU 15 2002 Tim Carter Auburn 46 2008 Earl Bennett Vanderbilt 70
2005 Matt Jones Arkansas 21 2003 Taylor Jacobs Florida 44 2008 Early Doucet LSU 81
2007 Dwayne Bowe LSU 23 2004 Devery Henderson LSU 50 2008 Andre Caldwell Florida 97
2007 Robert Meachem Tennessee 27 2005 Reggie Brown Georgia 35 2009 Mike Wallace Ole Miss 84
2007 Craig Davis LSU 30 2006 Chad Jackson Florida 36 2010 Brandon LaFell LSU 78
2009 Percy Harvin Florida 22 2007 Sidney Rice South Carolina 44 2014 Donte Moncrief Ole Miss 90
2011 A.J. Green Georgia 4 2009 Mohamed Massaquoi Georgia 50 2015 Chris Conley Georgia 76
2011 Julio Jones Alabama 6 2010 Dexter McCluster Ole Miss 36 2015 Sammie Coates Auburn 87
2013 Cordarrelle Patterson Tennessee 29 2011 Randall Cobb Kentucky 64
2014 Mike Evans Texas A&M 7 2012 Alshon Jeffery South Carolina 45
2014 Odell Beckham Jr. LSU 12 2012 Rueben Randle LSU 63
2015 Amari Cooper Alabama 4 2013 Justin Hunter Tennessee 34
2016 Laquon Treadwell Ole Miss 23 2014 Jordan Matthews Vanderbilt 42
2015 Dorial Green-Beckham Missouri 40

Now, drafting a receiver from the SEC wasn’t a slam dunk, especially from the earlier time period in this sample. However, the track record was overall quite a bit stronger than the Pac-12’s. (Here’s a link to the sample I used— thanks, PFR Draft Finder!) While none of the first-rounders in the Pac-12 contributed more than 2322 yards in their career (Brandin Cooks will pass that sometime this season), even the relative busts from the SEC did something of note. Troy Williamson and Craig Davis were the biggest outright busts. Matt Jones was another guy who disappeared, in part because of production but also because of a cocaine problem. (His final season, at age 25, he caught 65 passes for 761 yards, so he was showing signs of development, at least.) That said, Jones was a college QB making the transition to receiver, always a dicey proposal.

Travis Taylor was a disappointment, but still put up 4,000 yards over seven seasons. Robert Meachem had almost 3,000 yards despite not knowing how to do anything except block and run a go route. Michael Clayton exploded out of the gate with 80 catches for 1,193 yards as a 22-year-old rookie… then had 1,762 yards receiving for the rest of his career. That number still stands as the fourth-most receiving yards by a rookie since the merger, behind only Anquan Boldin, Randy Moss, and Odell Beckham Jr.

The 2000-07 group of first-rounders tells an entirely different story from the 2009-16 group (no SEC receivers were drafted in the first round in 2008). Aside from all the receivers listed above, the remaining 2000-07 group consists of Donte’ Stallworth, who never lived up to his draft position, but still posted 4,837 yards in an 11-year career, peaking with 70/945/7 at age 25, and Dwayne Bowe. Bowe was the best find in this group, the only player to peak as a legitimate top option with a team, the only player aside from Clayton to have any 1,000-yard seasons (he has three), and the only player to make a Pro Bowl.

Now, look at the group from 2009 onward.

Julio Jones, A.J. Green, and Odell Beckham are among the very top players in the league at receiver. Mike Evans and Amari Cooper are not far off. That’s five of the eight who are slam dunks, and arguably the best five in this sample. And of the remaining three, Laquon Treadwell is a 21-year-old rookie who hasn’t played yet, and Percy Harvin’s career was derailed, but it’s hard to say he didn’t live up to his draft position for Minnesota:

  • He made a Pro Bowl as a return man as a rookie, and on top of that had 925 yards from scrimmage that year and 975 his sophomore year.
  • Combining his third and fourth years, he posted 2,085 yards from scrimmage across 25 games– 1,312/8 in 2011, then 773 yards in 9 games in 2012.

Then he hurt his hip and got traded to Seattle in the offseason. He was never the same, playing on three teams in three seasons in a total of 19 games before retiring.

The only arguable bust is Cordarrelle Patterson, and even he is showing some signs of stepping up his game at last, in his fourth season (although he is probably still a bust).

However, since it’s too early to evaluate Treadwell, I’d still count that as six successful draft picks out of seven. An astonishing rate. Then again, the SEC went one-for-eight (maybe one-and-a-half if you think Clayton’s rookie season matters, but he did it for a 5-11 team) in the first stretch of time, so it wasn’t like SEC receivers were always a slam dunk.

(Side note: I wonder if something has changed in the evaluations over time, or if it’s just variance. It could have something to do even more specifically with draft position, as the five receivers drafted in the top twelve since 2009 all hit, whereas only two receivers from 2000-07 were drafted that highly, and at least one of them, Williamson, was seen as a reach at the time by a team desperately trying to replace the downfield threat of the just-traded Randy Moss.)

Still, the evidence is clear, comparing the first rounds of the SEC and Pac-12: The SEC’s receivers are overall better. The best receivers are more talented and productive, arguably the best in the league at their position, and a fair number of the busts manage to hang around and have decent careers.

The second round of the SEC has sixteen* receivers drafted as opposed to the Pac-12’s nine. (Note: that sixteen includes Dexter McCluster, whom I’d argue is a running back, but he shows up in PFR’s Draft Finder, so I included him.) None of the SEC’s receivers have had the careers of Chad Johnson or DeSean Jackson. But again, the SEC’s receivers have gotten better of late, as the ones with the most potential of living up to that have been drafted since 2011. Alshon Jeffery may well be on his way. Randall Cobb and Jarvis Landry have been very productive and figure to stick around a long time. Jordan Matthews has played pretty well, if not quite on their level.

That said, the second round outside the stars again goes to the SEC. Jabar Gaffney and Devery Henderson carved out long careers comparable to Dennis Northcutt’s. Sidney Rice had a monster season in his third year, an 83/1312/8 line with Brett Favre throwing to him. Unfortunately, he never approached those heights again, only once more playing a full 16-game season, and then only totaling 50/748/7.

Josh Reed had eight unspectacular years in Buffalo. Reggie Brown and Rueben Randle had a couple of decent seasons on their rookie contracts.

in round three, both conferences produce ten receivers, but the SEC produces Darrell Jackson and Mike Wallace, and the best the Pac-12 has to offer is the fantastic but oft-injured Keenan Allen. Brandon LaFell has also had a better career than anyone sans Allen on the Pac-12 list. Donte Moncrief is on his way.

The SEC, then, seems like a conference which clearly produces better receivers than the Pac-12. But how can we more clearly measure this? Much like I did with my study of the Saints draft history, I’m going to use PFR’s Approximate Value stat to find out not only which conference produced the “best” receivers, but how each conference’s receivers performed relative to expectations given their draft status, and come up with answer that way. Stay tuned; I’ll be doing that for all the major conferences, not just the Pac-12 and SEC.

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