Green Bay Packers receiver Malik Heath has deservedly made the team, and he — and the Packers organization — deserves a big congratulations for making it happen. This was an outstanding bit of scouting by the team, but there were plenty of signs out there that Heath was an above-average prospect, and I’m frankly upset with myself for missing them. I suspect over the next few years, several other teams will share my feelings on the subject.
Every year I use WROPS and WROBA (for more on WROPS and WROBA, see the Glossary) to help identify underrated and overrated receivers entering the NFL Draft. WROBA contextualizes each receiver’s production versus the average in college football for that season, with a score of 100 as the average, and every point above or below representing 1 percent above or below average. I try to take a look at every plausible prospect that registers with an above-average WROPS/WROBA, and here, I did not go deep enough. In my defense, Heath did not even appear on the PFN consensus board at all, and in Dane Brugler’s Beast rankings, he was 51st out of 56 total receivers, besting only Jaray Jenkins of LSU, Ryan Miller of Furman, Braydon Johnson of Oklahoma State, and Tyler Adams of Butler.
I still should have caught him though. 245 receivers qualified for a WROPS score last season. Heath’s .409/.534/.943, with a 127 WROBA ranked 11th overall, tied with Ohio State’s outstanding prospect Emeka Egkuba. Of those receivers I did rank and write on for this year’s draft, only Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Tennessee’s Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee’s Cedric Tillman (the Heupel-Raid offense was very good), Arkansas’ Matt Landers, Oklahoma’s Marcin Mims, and UNC’s Antoine Green outperformed Heath. Landers and Green were both featured in my “Underrated Receivers” column before the draft, along with Packer draft pick Dontayvion Wicks. As of this writing, it appears that Green did make the Lions' 53-man roster, Wicks is likely to make the Packers in some capacity despite an injury, and Landers is still in limbo. Heath should have been featured as well, especially because I saw so much of his tape while taking a look at his teammate, and the fourth subject of my column, Jonathan Mingo.
When watching Mingo’s tape it’s hard not to notice Heath, and my colleague Tyler Brooke and I,
Heath had such a weird RAS, but anyone who watched Jonathan Mingo tape noticed how good Heath was.— BadgerNoonan (@BadgerNoonan) August 20, 2023
(As we mentioned on the pod last week.) https://t.co/ccMwG3vajz
and Peter Bukowski, and several others mentioned a similar experience.
True story: I watched the wrong Ole Miss WR for the first half of the first game studying Jonathan Mingo.— Peter Bukowski (@Peter_Bukowski) August 27, 2023
It only sparks my brain now because it was Malik Heath. I wish I’d kept the notes I made when I thought it was Mingo.
Ole Miss uniforms plus tiny jersey numbers on A22
It’s not unusual for the second option in an offense to benefit from an elite teammate, but Heath actually popping on tape, in addition to his outstanding WROPS score, is a strong indicator that a player is being overlooked.
But if you don’t care for my proprietary stats, or my scouting acumen, I have one more stat for you that I almost always look at, but failed to this year, which I call the .400-Slugging club. As part of WROPS, the baseline for an elite catch rate (represented by a .400 WROBP) is a 67%. Even if you don’t do much with the balls you catch, it’s an accomplishment to catch 67% of your targets as a receiver. Every year, there’s also a group that manages to combine an ability to catch everything with explosive plays on those catches, and those receivers (often Ohio State guys recently) turn into NFL stars.
This year, 67 qualifiers caught at least 67% of their targets. It’s a strong list, and includes Jalin Hyatt, Jordan Addison, Tank Dell, Brock Bowers, Dalton Kincaid, Josh Downs, and Emeka Ekuba. Of those 67 receivers, who caught at least 67% of their targets, only two had a higher Yards per Catch than Malik Heath: Jalin Hyatt, who had a truly historic season playing the college football most progressive offense, and Jacoby Jones of Ohio, who had no trouble dominating the MAC.
Top Y/C with 67% Catch Rate
Heath averaged 16.18 yards per catch in the SEC. He had 8 catches for 145 yards in a loss to LSU. He had 6 catches for 123 yards in a loss to Alabama. He had 9 catches for 140 yards and a touchdown in a loss to Arkansas. And in Ole Miss’ bowl game against Texas Tech, he had 8 catches for 137 yards and a score against Texas Tech. We shouldn’t scout exclusively by stat lines of course, but Heath’s efficiency and level of competition were basically unparalleled last season. No one but the Packers noticed enough to care. Kudos to them for finding a true diamond in the rough.
Lesson learned for me.