(In this final part of this 3-part series, we’ll take a look at the projected first round receivers according to three of my favorite statistics for evaluating college talent: WROPS, RAS, and WRAPS. You can read the previous two parts here, and here. You can also view the WROPS and WRAPS tables at these links.)
Many Green Bay Packers fans hope desperately that the Packers will use their high picks in the 2022 NFL Draft to reload at wide receiver, and I’m with them. This team has been far too reliant on Davante Adams and a group of third-tier (or worse) alternatives, and while Rodgers and Adams’ brilliance has carried them far, it’s run up against a wall in the playoffs against elite defenses. The Packers under Rodgers are at their best with at least two good-to-elite pass catchers, and as it currently stands, they have zero. It’s time to seriously reload, and Green Bay has the picks to do it.
I’ve used my Wide Receiver OPS (WROPS), Kent Lee Platte’s Relative Athletic Score (RAS), and my hybrid stat which combines the two (WRAPS) to highlight those receiving prospects currently overrated and underrated as we approach the draft, but what of those elite prospects likely to actually be available at 22 and 28? There are seven prospects with plausible first round talent in this draft, so which should we prefer? Let’s dig in.
First and foremost, a quick primer on WROPS. WROPS combines a receivers catch percentage, and yards per reception, into a single statistic scaled to baseball’s OPS (On base Plus Slugging) statistic. 1.000 or above is excellent, .900 is very good, .800 average, and anything below that is terrible. WROPS is made up of two component parts, just like OPS; WROBP, and WRSLG. The benefit of WROPS is that it gives just as much credit to a high catch rate, high volume receiver as it does to someone who catches fewer balls but for more yards. Your slot guys and your bombers all get credit.
|Name||PFF Rank 4-8||PFF Update 4-25||Rise and Fall||WROPS||RAS||WRAPS|
|Name||PFF Rank 4-8||PFF Update 4-25||Rise and Fall||WROPS||RAS||WRAPS|
|Calvin Austin III||87||87||0||0.861||9.05||17.66|
|Kevin Austin Jr.||157||128||29||0.957||9.94||19.51|
|Velus Jones Jr.||204||193||11||0.877||9.07||17.84|
|Johnny Johnson III||329||326||3||#N/A||5.42||#N/A|
|Tre Turner||222||Off the Board||#VALUE!||0.865||3.5||12.15|
|Malachi Carter||232||Off the Board||#VALUE!||0.818||#N/A||#N/A|
|Michael Woods II||347||Off the Board||#VALUE!||0.765||7.58||15.23|
For more on WROPS, please see this previous post, and while you’re there, please check on why I think USC’s Drake London (WROPS - .426/.406/.832) is terribly overrated as a tall, physical receiver with the production profile of an average slot receiver. With London out of the way, let’s move on to the others.
1. Jameson Williams
WROPS Slash Line - .402/.657/.1.058 (4th overall)
RAS - N/A
Williams was the most valuable draft eligible receiver in football last year, and only Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba had a serious case against Williams for that title. Williams had an unusual path to stardom, transferring to Alabama from OSU to avoid the backlog created by guys like Smith-Njigba and Chris Olave, and it couldn’t have worked out any better, as even the mighty SEC was no match for his speed. Williams’ trademark is his ability to kick it into another gear and blow by any defender downfield. His tape is littered with moments in which he appears to be running full out, stride for stride with an elite SEC corner, and suddenly starts going much, much faster.
Williams is merely good as a route runner but it almost doesn’t matter. His natural ability to vary speeds and accelerate immediately does most of the work for him. I think, of all the physical traits we use to describe receivers, “easy speed” is my favorite, and projects the best.
All of that said, Williams is still slightly risky. He blew out his ACL in the national championship game, and while a torn ACL isn’t a huge deal in this day and age, it’s more of a risk given Williams’ specific skill set. All of that said, Williams has been a late riser on most boards, and that is likely the result of teams gaining comfort with his medicals. The fact of the matter is that Williams won against elite competition like no one else in this draft. If you project him to recover and return to full power, that skillset will absolutely translate at the next level. My comp for guys who move like Willams is usually Torry Holt. That seems about right.
2 and 3. Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave
2021 WROPS - .408/.498/.906
2020 WROPS - .429/.555/.984
RAS - 7.74, WRAPS - 16.8
2021 WROPS - .379/.475/.854
2020 WROPS - .514/.519/.1.033
RAS - 8.65, WRAPS - 17.19
The Ohio State receiving room is absolutely bonkers, has been for years now, and will continue to be with Smith-Njigba and Marvin Harrison, Jr. taking on full-time starting roles in 2022. This is good and bad, in the sense that when selecting an OSU wideout you can be reasonably sure of your ceiling. Terry McLaurin only caught 35 balls in 2018 as the third receiver behind Parris Campbell and K.J. Hill, but WROPs and RAS still picked out his amazing small sample size campaign for the greatness that was there. McClaurin’s .488/.661/.1.149 campaign is one of the greatest in history on a per play basis, and edged out DK Metcalf, Hakeem Butler, Hollywood Brown, AJ Brown, Mecole Hardman, Deebo Samuel, and teammate Parris Campbell for the top spot in a historically good receiver class.
McLaurin is an excellent pro and has a case as one of the best in football given his perpetually bad quarterback situation, but it’s useful to remember that teammate Parris Campbell went a full round higher than McClaurin (also above Metcalf), and he hasn’t worked out quite so well. Much of this isn’t Campbell’s fault, as he has suffered serious injury after serious injury as a member of the Colts (an experience far too common with Indianapolis), but even before the injuries started stacking up, there were reasons to prefer McLaurin. Campbell’s .482/.390/.872 WROPS shows a shocking lack of explosiveness for a player with a 9.76 RAS. An elite athlete at Ohio State should be ripping off no worse than a .450 WRSLG. In fairness to Campbell, he did so the previous season (453/.482/.935) which is quite a bit better, but still a little too reminiscent of a running back catching running back routes, at least for my taste. Campbell’s biggest advantage was volume as he hauled in 90 balls in 2018, and volume can murder your efficiency, but it really shouldn’t with McLaurin (and to a lesser extent, Hill) on the roster.
Which brings us to the perplexing trio of the draft eligible and highly touted Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, and young upstart Jaxon Smith-Njiba. JSN was, by WROPS, the best receiver in college football last season posting an incredible .509/.558/.1/067 split, just edging Jameson Williams, though you can make a case for either. Any time a receiver posts a +.500 WROBP, you can be assured that that player has amazing hands, an amazing catch radius, and an amazing quarterback throwing to him. It’s not easy to catch that many balls while still doing major damage on every catch, and only the greats really pull it off. JSN only exceeded 6 receptions in a game once prior to facing Nebraska on November 6th, but starting with his 15 catches against the Huskers, he never had fewer than 9 going forward, capping things off with an incredible 15 catch, 347 yard, 3 TD performance against Utah in the Rose Bowl.
So what are we to make of Wilson and Olave, who were great in their own right in the Covid-shortened 2020 season as co-alpha dogs, but never really reached JSN-levels, and took a step back in 2021? Personally, I would urge caution on Wilson, and strongly prefer Olave.
The 2020 season gives us a good idea of Olave’s ceiling. That .514/.519/.1.033 line is right up there with JSN’s 2021 splits, and Olave was almost certainly the best college receiver of 2020, with only D’Wayne Eskridge (.381/.786/1.149), Reggie Roberson (.413/.711/.1.124) and Dyami Brown (.388/.659/1.048) in consideration. While those three were aided by catching a few big bombs that others dropped, Olave’s production was all about catching every ball and destroying opposing defenders every single time.
There is no scouting report of Olave that does not include the word “smooth.” His release is easily best in class, and he is one of the only humans able to mimic the instant release of Davante Adams. And like Adams, Olave is just at home in the slot as he outside, or deep, or over the middle, or on some stupid pointless bubble screen. Wilson and Olave both took a step back this year as JSN ascended, with Wilson taking the lesser hit, but this too is a testament to Olave’s flexibility, as he altered his role far more to accommodate the young star and suffered for it.
Olave has a few faults which did ding those numbers. He can get into freelancing and away from his route too early, a consequence of seeing the open spaces before everyone else does. And he’s not a physical receiver in size or temperament, allowing big hits to jar the ball loose. From a Packer perspective, it’s also worth noting that Olave isn’t a particularly willing or able blocker (though he has leveraged that release/intelligence into two punt blocks).
If you want a guy to step right into a complicated offense and have an impact, Olave is your guy. He’s easily the most polished receiver in the draft, he brings an elite release to the table, and you can see his brain working in real time as he effortlessly moves through space.
Wilson is an elite mover in his own right, but unlike Olave, he’s much more of a straight-line threat, with a second burst similar to that of Jameson Williams. Unlike Williams, he’s not as good on his soft skills or generating clean releases. When faced with zone or a soft man coverage, or an overwhelmed Michigan State DB not good enough to be on JSN, he’s fantastic, but in press man he can be bullied and often telegraphs his route. I’ve seen some analysts trying to sell Wilson through his work near the end zone in short spaces, and he did indeed excel there in college, but he excelled through use of his pure speed, outrunning players to the boundary, and exceptional ball skills, snatching it away from would-be defenders.
Those are great skills to have, and Wilson’s ability to track, adjust to, and pull in balls in the air may even exceed Williams’. However, he’s two inches shorter than Williams, and pure outside receivers under 6 feet tall make me nervous, especially if they sometimes struggle with physical play.
Wilson is projected in the first round, often ahead of Olave, for one good reason; his ceiling. His deep speed and physical tools are very real, and he dominated good competition in the Big Ten, but his routes are choppy, he dances with the ball, and he needs to get better technically to play the full route tree at the next level. There’s projection left, and those that say his ceiling is higher than Olave’s are almost certainly correct, but he’s not there yet.
4. Treylon Burks
WROPS - .430/.551/.982
RAS - 5.78, WRAPS - 15.6
WROPS loves Treylon Burks, and those splits, plus his general physical presence as a 225-pound absolute tank would seem to make him extremely attractive to the Packers. However, there are a few red flags that have caused him to fall down various big boards as we approach the draft, including at PFF where he was their 31st overall player 20 days ago and has now plummeted to 46th. Rumors of Burks’ struggles with the Arkansas playbook, along with a leaked Wonderlic (players, especially highly projected players, should stop taking the Wonderlic), have hurt his stock, along with a low RAS, especially in the explosion portion where you would like to see a player with Burks’ profile stand out.
Discussions of intelligence are often offensive and uncomfortable, and as often as they bear out, they’re sometimes smoke screens designed to get a player to fall to a certain team. The bottom line with Burks is this: if those concerns are overblown, he has star potential. You aren’t that productive at a lesser SEC school without being an excellent football player. If, on the other hand, there is some credence to those rumors, a smart front office and coaching staff should still be able to squeeze plenty of value from him. The RAS is more concerning to me than anything else as the Combine took place on a fast track, but Burks has consistently dominated every year, and while his RAS isn’t elite, it’s hardly terrible. His 2020 WROPS splits of .431/.531/.962 are almost identical to this season, and while he struggled against Georgia’s all world defense, he lit up Alabama on 8 catches for 179 yards and 2 scores.
Arkansas figured out how to use him. You can too. I suspect someone winds up with a bargain on Burks.
5. Skyy Moore
WROPS - .422/.449/.871
RAS - 7.54, WRAPS - 16.25
Moore has the slot profile that I just can’t get behind. He’s tiny at just 5-foot-9, and while he showed off nice straight line speed at the combine, he struggled in the agility drills. Kent Lee Platte, who runs RAS, wasn’t concerned with the agility drills as his closest RAS comp, Golden Tate, has had a fine NFL career. It’s a fair point, but it’s worth noting that at Notre Dame Tate averaged 16.1 yards per reception in his final season (and 18.6 the year before) while Moore has never averaged more than 15.7, and in 2021, averaged just 13.6. He may be athletically similar to Tate, but Tate was a much better player against much more difficult competition.
Agility isn’t death to a slot receiver and aside from Tate, Packer fans can point to Randall Cobb, though Cobb is a bit of an outlier in terms of overcoming a very poor RAS. The best current slot receivers (Cooper Kupp, Hunter Renfrow, and JuJu Smith-Schuster, all possessed good-to-elite agility numbers).
Moore’s ceiling is limited by size, by positional versatility, and by his overall athleticism. There’s no evidence in his production profile of an ability to exceed those limitations. Moore is currently 22nd on the PFF big board. I like a little more upside in my first rounders.
6. George Pickens
WROPS (adjusted due to injury) - .390/.495/.885
RAS - 9.37, WRAPS - 18.2
Now we’re talking. We started with Jameson Williams, coming off of a serious injury, and we’ll finish with Pickens, who tore his ACL in the spring of 2021, but rehabbed like a machine to make it back for limited snaps in Georgia’s final four games. Pickens actually led the Bulldogs in receiving yards in the title game, on the strength of a single 52-yard catch.
If the WROPS slash line up top looks less impressive than what Williams or Burks put up, consider that it is almost entirely composed of his freshman and sophomore seasons, and not his lost junior season. We can only guess as to how much Pickens would have improved on his previous years, but even the smallest improvement would have sent him into elite territory. Good news on his medicals and an elite RAS have him soaring up draft boards as teams are finally catching on. The PFF Big Board had him 57th overall on April 8th, whereas he now stands at 28th, right in that Packers’ sweet spot.
What’s so exciting about Pickens? Like Olave, he’s one of the few truly versatile receivers in the draft, able to excel outside, while popping in the slot when necessary. But more than anything, Pickens plays with violence. While Olave is always smooth and Williams accelrerates with ease, Pickens always appears to be going full-out. His cuts and breaks can actually get a bit robotic, as he punishes the ground underneath him like a marching band, but that intensity works to his advantage. Corners can never let up against him, and have pity for those who attempt to initiate contact.
But, while some “touch” receivers are overly reliant on contested catches and pure physicality, Pickens is gifted at setting up the nearest defender with his hips, arms, and shoulders, and suddenly disappearing the other direction. Pickens is open, and open a ton, and whereas Olave will get as open by bruising your ego, Pickens will get just as open while bruising so much more of you.
Pickens has been suspended more than once for fighting during his college career, and that, combined with his play style may not sit well with a few teams. In a good organization with solid veteran leadership, he can be one of the league’s best receivers, and biggest personalities.