I've seen recent comments saying the combine doesn't matter much. There's obviously some truth to that, as every year a few no-name rookies outplay the workout freaks, and we've seen enough Wes Welkers and Jerry Rices ... and Troy Williamsons and Chad Jacksons to know a 40 time isn't everything.
A few weeks back though, I decided to see what the combine numbers had to offer, and tried using a receiver's Height, Weight, 40 time, and best college season per game numbers to try to separate the good pros from bad. I think I had some success with it.
The method was super simple: I scored each player who was ranked as a top 40 WR in his class on a 0-10 scale based on their NFL success, 0 meaning I've never heard of them, 3 meaning they played in games but never did much, 5 meant they were in a rotation, 7 a solid starter, 10 a superstar. Those numbers were adjusted up a bit for guys who got drafted recently. The average rating among all receivers tested was 2.94. Next, I found their best statistical season by highest Fantasy PPG (Rec + RecYds/10 + RecTDs*6)/GamesPlayed. Then I just started finding groups of successful players who shared the same measureables, best statistical seasons, and pre-draft CBS rankings.
Below are those groups. (Excel file here, use the filtering to sort through the data). Basically, if you think a WR prospect will be a star, he should fit into one of the following four groups.
SUCCESSFUL WR TYPES, BASED ON COMBINE NUMBERS FROM 2006-2011
Type #1: 6'1"+, 210lbs+, <= 4.55 40 time, 12+ Fantasy PPG in his best college season
42 players qualified, average rating of 5.02.... 22/42 players rated 5+. Notable sleepers include Colston, Brandon Marshall, Mike Williams, Miles Austin. Biggest misses include Chad Jackson, Devin Thomas, Limas Sweed, James Hardy. It's a risky group, but it's also where most of the superstar WRs come from.
Type #2: Under 6'1", <= 4.40 40 time, 12+ Fantasy PPG in his best college season
Type #3: 6'1", weighs less than 210lbs, <= 4.35 40 time, 12+ Fantasy PPG in his best college season
Type #4: Rated as a Top 15 WR, 17.5+ Fantasy PPG in his best college season, not part of Types #1-3
Kind of a cop-out category I guess, although there's obviously a lot the combine can't see. If a player is scouted very highly and was very effective in college, the success rate was decent. 26 players qualified, average rating of 4.92... 15/26 players rated 5+.
OVERALL... 87 players fit into one of those 4 categories, with an average score of 5.10, with 51/87 players rating 5+, and 71/87 players rating 3+.
144 players did not fall into one of those 4 categories, and they had an average score of 1.65. 16/144 players rated 5+, 49/144 players rated 3+. Top misses included Steve Johnson, Antonio Brown, Steve Breaston, and Eddie Royal. Highest CBS-rated players on this list were DHB (#3 overall), Sinorice Moss (#3), Arrelious Benn (#4), Brian Robiskie (#5), Damian Williams (#6), Early Doucet (#7), Jerrel Jernigan (#7), Craig Davis (#7), Anthony Gonzalez (#8), Derrick Williams (#8), Todd Watkins (#8). I think the model does a pretty good job of weeding out overrated players.
THE 2012 PROSPECTS...
I originally intended to write this fanpost to describe the Success Types, plug in this year's prospects, and report the top sleepers and highest-rated bust candidates. Every year there's a few of each, but of course this year there aren't much of either :) The thing is, I've looked at enough of these numbers that I think I can point out a few intriguing names, and find a few red flags that I would have ignored a few weeks ago before I looked at this. A list of random notes is below.
SLEEPER CANDIDATES THAT DESERVE SOME CONSIDERATION...
Greg Childs is the obvious one. He measured at 6'3" 215lbs with a 4.55" 40... basically identical numbers to Rueben Randle's 6'3" 210lbs with a 4.55" 40. Childs was a stud prospect as a sophomore... he posted a 50 catch, 900 yard, 7 TD season, then got off to a really hot start in 2010 before tearing his patella tendon and missing the rest of the season. He wasn't fully recovered in 2011 and had a down season with a bunch of zero-catch games. His injury is the same one Mark Clayton and Nate Allen both had in 2010, and neither was at full strength this season, although this study suggests a full recovery is possible, and maybe that's already happened with Childs' nice 40 time yesterday. He's currently rated the #38 WR on CBS, a possible undrafted candidate, but on paper he looks like he could be special if he recovers.
Jeff Fuller didn't run a 40 yesterday due to a stress fracture in his foot, but he's someone to keep an eye on. CBS has him ranked #21, and he's 6'4" 223lbs and posted a 70 catch, 1050 yard, 12 TD season in 2010 for Texas A&M.
I've seen a lot of support for Marvin McNutt, but DeVier Posey is also a Big Ten receiver, also 6'2"+, also 215lbs+, and he's ranked higher by CBS and ran a faster 40 time yesterday (4.50" to McNutt's 4.54"). Posey was part of the Ohio State tattoo scandal and was suspended 10 games and missed nearly all his senior year as a result, but he had promising sophomore and junior years with about 55 catches 830 yards, and 7 TDs in each season. Those aren't eye-popping numbers, but he was sharing the ball with Dane Sanzenbacher, and unlike Sanzenbacher DeVier's measureables are almost identical to Michael Crabtree's and Tampa Bay's Mike Williams.
MIDROUNDERS THAT, ON PAPER, LOOK LIKE EARLY ROUND TALENTS...
Brian Quick has had his own fanshots here, so there's not much more I can add to his background. But anytime a successful college player (big school or not) measures at 6'4" 220 with 4.55" 40 he deserves notice. The only other prospects who met that criteria since 2006 are Calvin Johnson, Jonathan Baldwin, Marques Colston, Brandon Marshall, Riley Cooper, and Ramses Barden. Before you get too excited, Marcus Monk (4.56" 40) and Malcolm Kelly (4.64 40) just missed. This is on Emery to determine if his skillset is there, but the physical ability is there.
Quick would have an easier time jumping to the early rounds if it weren't for Tommy Streeter and Stephen Hill who rated out even more freakishly. Streeter's 6'5" 219, 4.40" 40 is all-world type stuff. Julio Jones was elite last year at 6'3" 220 with a 4.34", for example, and Streeter is right there. The issue with him for a while was iffy hands, and it's something we can still see a little bit of in his 2011 highlight video, although he looks fairly capable overall imo, and he finally had a nice year for Miami (45 catches, 800 yards, 8 TDs in 12 games). Stephen Hill we know about after today. His 6'4" 215 4.30" 40 line is just as impressive as Streeter's, and I watched him in the combine receiving drills and his hands looked like the best of the bunch (smalls sample, I know). I've seen some comments regarding his 28 catches all season... and to me that's not a big issue, as Georgia Tech attempted just 167(!) passes all season and completed 82. In the context of percentage of his team's passing offense, Hill's numbers look a lot closer to the other top draft picks. I should note that Hill was the highest rated player to not fall into one of the four Success Types listed above, as his Fantasy PPG for his best season was just under 12. There's going to be issues with an overfitted model, and that's even more evidence that the Success Types are mostly useful as a general rule of thumb for separating the guys that blatantly are or are not NFL talents.
WCG FAVORITES THAT WERE MOSTLY MEH
First thing's first: Justin Blackmon. I know he's rated high, but he measured just 6'1" 207, and he isn't known as a speed receiver. In the success types above, players under 6'1" 210lbs should be running in the 4.35" zone, and Blackmon won't beat that mark at his pro day workout. He also didn't rate out that great with hand size (9.25") or arm length (32.5"). A similarly sized talent like Hakeem Nicks was at 10.5" and 33.5" respectively, for example. Michael Crabtree was a bit bigger at 6'2" 215lbs with a 4.54" 40 at the combine, and had 9.25" hands and a 34.25" arm length for reference. That's not to say Blackmon can't be a superstar... but he's been appointed the clear #1 ahead of some really elite athletes in this year's class... and Blackmon, physically, is basically average.
Kendall Wright rated out at 5'10" 196lbs with a 4.61" 40, and that's agent-should-be-fired horrific. I've seen a few comments saying Wright plays faster in games, and that's fine, but the small NFL receivers who have had success (Holmes, Steve Smith, Santana Moss) were all 4.4" guys or better. Considering Jay asked for a 6'2"+ receiver, Kendall was already an iffy pick in my opinion, and now there's a chance he has the fewest physical tools of any of the first day WRs. Unless those 40 times were flukes for some reason, he's going to have a hard time getting past NFL CBs. Even an unheralded free agent like Tim Jennings was a 5'8" 4.32" 40 guy at the combine... it won't be easy if you're short AND slow AND playing on Soldier Field grass.
Mohamed Sanu was similarly disappointing at 6'1.5" 211lbs 4.67". At that 40 time, his only comparable is Anquan Boldin, and we're talking one guy like him in the past decade. If there's a prospect who looks savvy enough to get the job done without speed, it's Sanu, but I don't think he's a smart #19 pick anymore. Of the 35 players to run 4.59+ since 2006, none of them became an impact starter... the closest players were Manningham, Massoquai and Bess who've been #2/#3 WRs. Same goes for Juron Criner who is 6'3" 224lb but ran just a 4.68".
THE TOP TALENTS THAT SOLIDIFIED THEIR STOCK
Nick Toon and Rueben Randle were really just okay. 4.55" 40s for guys who had an outside shot at a 1st round selection will probably end that discussion, but on paper it's all unimpressively there. Good size, decent production in college, decent speed... the type of players I wouldn't mind the Bears taking as a project pick with one of their 3rds, but only if they take a more legit upside guy earlier.
Dwight Jones seems like a safe bet to make a WR rotation, and he's got some upside. There were maturity issues earlier in his career, and his stock took another hit after a lackluster Senior Bowl week where people expected him to dominate, and I think he might be undervalued as a result, because everything else is there. 6'3" 230lbs, 4.55" 40 puts him right there with Greg Little, Brandon Marshall, Demaryius Thomas... he had a 85 catch, 1200 yard, 12 TD season for UNC. Maybe he struggles early on, but I think he deserves to be on the list of players who could be the big #1 receiver Cutler is looking for.
Michael Floyd ran a 4.47" 40, and that will keep him in the first round. I saw some comments saying that time will move him out of the Bears' range, and maybe that's the case, but I think the odds are against it. There have been plenty of players with similar heights/weights who ran about 4.47" (James Hardy 4.45, Limas Sweed 4.48, Kenny Britt 4.50 to name a few), and their stock didn't exactly skyrocket.
The Bears have plenty of holes to fill at other positions, but this is such a loaded draft for WRs, and the Bears are so lacking in WR talent that I think using two picks on WRs is a legitimate option. I gotta think that, just due to randomness that happens in every draft, one of Posey/McNutt/Streeter/Quick/Jones/Toon/Randle will slip to the Bears' 4th round pick. Grab a WR early, grab a second 4th round, and you give yourself two big, talented guys to try to get that difference maker for your offense. (Of course, this could all change as more scouting reports come out.)