Wide receivers require a lot of scouting. A good quarterback or scheme can blow up a player’s college stats, and a bad QB can completely undermine otherwise talented players in terms of production. That said, scouting the soft skills is always a tricky business and is as subjective as anything in football. You can’t ignore scouting, but you can’t totally rely on it either.
I like to work on more solid footing, and so this year I’ve taken WROPS and applied it to everyone in Division 1 with at least 30 receptions. WROPS relies on catch percentage, and for NCAA numbers I relied on Rotowire’s reasonably priced and easily sortable numbers. WROPS takes and weights catch percentage and yards per reception into a single number, designed to mimic baseball’s OPS statistic. WROPS can be broken into WROBP (catch percentage) and WRSLG (yards per reception). Combining the two identifies receivers who catch a high percentage of balls and do a lot of damage with the balls they catch. You can read more about it here.
|Henry Ruggs III||0.414||0.615||1.029|
|Terrace Marshall Jr.||0.423||0.480||0.903|
|Stephon Robinson Jr.||0.351||0.533||0.884|
|Amon-Ra St. Brown||0.436||0.447||0.882|
|Johnny Johnson III||0.380||0.484||0.864|
|Michael Pittman Jr.||0.446||0.417||0.862|
|Easop Winston Jr.||0.468||0.377||0.844|
|Cee Jay Powell||0.403||0.375||0.778|
I’ve taken another step with my NCAA numbers in also building WROPS+. WROPS+ applies only to receivers who participated in the NFL Combine, and is built with an average of a their WROPS score and Kent Lee Platte’s (@Mathbomb) Relative Athletic Score (RAS). You can be confident that a receiver with a high WROPS+ was both productive in his most recent college season, AND scored well in his athletic testing. WROPS, WROPS+, and its constituent parts can be useful in different ways, so let’s take a look at some of our top prospects and see what we can see.
|Henry Ruggs III||9.65||1.029||0.997|
|Michael Pittman Jr.||9.22||0.862||0.892|
|Laviska Shenault Jr.||7.22||0.860||0.791|
The Top Tier: Ruggs, Jefferson, and Lamb
- Ruggs: WROPS - 1.029 (10th of 329), WROPS+ - .997 (1st of 40)
- Jefferson: WROPS - .966 (26th), WROPS+ - .974 (3rd)
- Lamb: WROPS - 1.102 (2nd), WROPS+ - .935 (4th)
These three are not the only elite prospects in this draft, but they are the only three that, for me, tick every box. CeeDee Lamb finished 9th in WROPS in 2018 and 2nd in 2019 (and really, we should consider him first as Air Force’s Geraud Saunders snuck in with a very small sample size and a gaudy 25 yards per reception). Lamb is a darling of the scouts, one of the most productive college receivers there is, and a good athlete. His RAS falls below some of his contemporaries, but it’s still very good, and given his chops as a pass-catching monster with advanced skills, he is as safe a bet as you’ll find at the next level.
Jefferson is one of my personal favorites and should he fall to 30, he is an obvious target for Green Bay. After finishing a respectable 55th in WROPS in 2018, he moved up to 26th this season. That may not sound like much, but he also put together an insane combine that has him 3rd overall in WROPS+. There are no obvious holes to his game.
Ruggs is slightly more controversial, but this seems silly to me and I suspect folks are overthinking it. Alabama was loaded at receiver and quarterback, and I’ve seen some scouts bring up the fact that Ruggs was not even the 2nd choice for Nick Saban on offense, let alone the first. Pish posh. The only knock on Ruggs is that he isn’t a prototypical outside guy like teammates Jerry Jeudy, but that’s mostly because Alabama possessed a bunch of those guys allowing Ruggs to work his magic inside. Yes, he’s small which will push many to think of him as a slot player, but he’s the fastest receiver in this draft, he may have the best hands in the draft, and he happens to possess outstanding route-running skills. Saban used Ruggs where he did to get the most out of him because while Ruggs could have played Jeudy’s position, Jeudy probably could not have excelled in Ruggs’ spot. Odell Beckham is the obvious comp. His production + athleticism as captured by WROPS+ is unparalleled.
The Scouting Darlings: Jeudy and Reagor
- Jeudy: WROPS - .918 (49th), WROPS+ - .779 (22nd)
- Reagor: WROPS - .746 (256th), WROPS+ - .748 (29th)
Poor Jalen Reagor. He’s played with varying degrees of terrible quarterbacks for most of his career, but in his final season Max Duggan was likely the worst, ranking 121st of 129 QBS in QBOPS. Reagor’s WROBP of .277 is primarily to blame for his poor numbers, and it’s easy enough to see how college target tracking and an awful QB could tank your catch percentage. Reagor’s best college season was as a freshman when he posted a .917, and followed up in 2018 with an .806.
Many scouts will go to bat for Reagor, which is fine as he has plenty of excuses for poor production, but I’m concerned enough with the hands that I would avoid him. For a guy that is supposed to be a YAC monster, his catch percentage should, if anything, be artificially high, and while his .277 WROBP may not be representative, he’s never once posted a good score. On film I do see why people like him with the ball in his hands, I just think there are better options out there for a guy who likely can’t excel on the outside.
Jerry Jeudy is a different story. He’s been scouted to death his entire college career and I won’t be arguing that my stats (or Kent’s) should knock him down much, if at all. Moreover, while his 2019 WROPS was merely good, his 2018 effort was easily in the top 10, ahead of Lamb and in the ballpark with Terry McLaurin and DK Metcalf. (And solidly ahead of A.J. and Hollywood Brown.) Jeudy is as polished as they come, and he’s produced when called upon to do so. I actually think attempting to feature him last season may have done him a disservice on his rate stats, and I would have no issues making him the first receiver taken, though I personally would put him behind the tier above. We should not ignore a lackluster combine completely.
The Freak and The Bust: Gibson and Shenault
- Antonio Gibson: WROPS - 1.045 (6th), WROPS+ - .995 (2nd)
- Laviska Shenault: WROPS - .860, WROPS+ - .791 (20th)
I don’t get the appeal of Shenault. He’s bigger than Reagor, and was asked to do many similar things, but he doesn’t pop on tape as much. His hands seem better (as his WROBP will testify), but for a tank slot he didn’t create much separation and beefed up his yards per catch with a lot of contested deep balls. He should be applauded for winning those battles of course, but it won’t be as easy to do so at the next level, and a sub-par combine bolstered the idea that he lacks breakaway speed and shiftiness. Scouts are dreaming of a Boldin or Deebo but I just don’t see it.
Shenault will also likely go too high for the risk involved, so why not sit back and let Antonio Gibson come to you? Gibson is the oddest player in this draft as a true hybrid WR/RB in college. He is slated to play RB at the next level. That should not stop come creative team from getting the most out of his receiving chops, as no one was more dangerous with the ball in his hands last year. Gibson ran a 4.39 at 228 pounds and while he is in no way a polished route runner, his inside/slot game was well developed enough for him to standout production-wise among the receivers. Far faster than any linebacker, college or pro, and much much bigger than any DB, with soft hands, this is your next Deebo, and he should be available late.
The other elites: Aiyuk, Mims, Pittman, Duvernay
- Aiyuk: WROPS - .984 (18th), WROPS+ - .924 (7th)
- Mims: .848 (121st), WROPS+ - .913 (8th)
- Pittman: .862 (105th), WROPS+ .892 (10th)
- Duvernay: .921 (47th), WROPS+ .873 (12th)
Any one of these guys has the potential to be as good as my top tier. This draft really is that deep at receiver.
Aiyuk probably belongs a tier up as he possesses one of the best combos of explosion and sure-handedness in the draft, but a slight lack of polish and a slightly underwhelming combine put a bit of doubt into my head. That said, I would happily take him in the late first round.
Outside of Chase Claypool, perhaps no one bolstered their case at the combine more than Denzel Mims. Mims was outstanding, putting up a 9.78 RAS and ascending in mock drafts everywhere. The question for me is why he didn’t produce more in college given his considerable gifts, especially with the ball in his hands. His catch percentage would be forgivable with another 50 points of slugging. Super athletes with average production always raise red flags for me. That said, his upside is real.
I actually wish Michael Pittman were a little shorter. His profile screams slot receiver as a .400/.400 guy, but his size will tempt many at the next level to put him outside. He’s a big slot and if used correctly, he’ll be fine. His measurables make him a likely Packer pick.
Devin Duvernay is Golden Tate. Seriously, he’s like an exact physical match to an absurd degree. If you would be happy with Golden Tate on a rookie deal, take him. He has some of the best hands in the draft and the talent to work outside.
The promising but raw: Claypool, Hightower, Peoples-Jones
- Claypool: WROPS - .851 (118th), WROPS+ - .926 (5th TIE)
- Hightower: WROPS - .946 (32nd), WROPS+ - .926 (5th TIE)
- People-Jones: WROPS - .777 (215), WROPS+ - .880 (11th)
Chase Claypool is a monster. Some of his closest mockdraftable comps include Andre Johnson (monster), TJ Hockenson (tight end!) and notably, Allen Lazard. He also posted a rare 10 RAS score at the combine (thanks to rounding, as he still came in a tick behind Calvin Johnson overall), and his athletic ability is not in doubt. His production, on the other hand, is, and for a guy who was a man among boys, it’s odd that he didn’t put up a better WROPS, and especially, a better WRSLG. .518 is fine, but his talent and size warrants a .600+.
I love John Hightower in this draft. His build is a bit thin, but he’s among the best big-play threats available, and after the first wave of outside guys he should be in the next tier. I’ve seen him mocked anywhere from the 3rd to the 5th round and I have no idea why. In my admittedly limited tape watching, his soft skills jump off the screen. He has soft hands, makes sharp cuts, and his production + athleticism are right there with Claypool. I’m not sure if I’d consider him a sleeper exactly, but he is my bet to exceed his draft position.
That brings us to poor Donovan Peoples-Jones, the Michigan product who can push Jalen Reagor for the title of “playing WR in the worst possible offense.” I tend to discount guys like this not because I necessarily think they’re bad, but because there is too much uncertainty around their college production. All of that said, DPJ was only the 3rd best receiver on his team, and the other two (Ronnie Bell and Nico Collins) were much more explosive. DPJ’s 9.84 RAS elevated his draft status, but the lack of production with those tools tells us he’s a project at best.
Stats like WROPS and RAS are not intended to provide the final say on any prospect, they are merely designed to increase your odds. The Packers have been doing this since at least the Thompson era with their minimum athletic score thresholds, and my colleague Peter Bukoswksi recently wrote a nice piece identifying their likely targets. I agree with his assessment and would wager heavily on Pittman, but with Claypool a close second, though I will be rooting for Jefferson and Hightower.
When an athletic player has under-performed, I want to see a reason as to why, and when a less athletic performer has over-performed, I want a consensus among scouts about the level of his talent (as we have with Jeudy). Some of the no-names who score high on WROPS due so because they didn’t face any good, let alone elite defenses, or they played in a pass-friendly scheme. Stats like WROPS help to raise these questions, and scouts help to answer them, or in some instances, fail to.