The buzzword around the Cleveland Browns lately has been "analytics." Supposedly, the front office will be basing decisions on data to a larger degree than years past, though it's still a little unclear what exactly that means. The Browns are also in desperate need of a playmaker on offense. With those two things in mind, I want to take a look at what three popular projection systems say about this season's crop of wide receiver prospects. I'll be using Rotoviz's Phenom Index (PI), Football Outsiders' Playmaker Score (PS), and Pro Football Focus' Success Scores (SS). I'm not going to get into the nitty-gritty of each system, instead I just want to see what they have to say about a few players Browns fans might have their eyes on. In general, these systems use some combination of age and college production to determine how likely a player is to succeed in the NFL. If you want more detailed info, click those links. None of the models are perfect, but they are pretty good, and taken together can present a relatively accurate picture of what to expect. So let's get to it.
These models are not kind to Josh Doctson. He ranks 44th in PI, 8th in PS, and 12th in SS. The two reasons he's not getting much love here are his age and his market share. Age is obvious, he's a four year college player and it turns out that's a significant negative marker for a receiver, likely because the top talents have emerged by the end of their junior year. He's also slightly old even for a senior, at 23. The second reason the models are down on him is his market share, meaning the proportion of his team's total receiving yards he responsible for. He put up decent stats in a high volume offense, meaning his production was less valuable. He also gets dinged for having less than ideal yards per catch, which could be a function of the offense he played in rather than a reflection of him as a player.
So why does everyone love him? Likely for his physical attributes. Interestingly, multiple studies have found that athleticism as measured by the NFL combine is an extremely poor predictor of NFL success. What's the take home here? Depending on how highly the front office values statistical projections over scouting, they might not be nearly as interested in Docston as some fans are.
Treadwell projects much better than Doctson, but isn't exactly a can't miss prospect himself. The models love his age, he's only 21 years old, but aren't as high on his market share or touchdown numbers. He's 6th in PI, 5th in PS, and 9th in SS. The numbers have him as a decent prospect, but not the kind of guy a team should be spending a top ten pick on. To my uneducated eye, that seems about right. He looks like a guy you can count on to have a decent career, but lacks the ability to really take over a game. I wouldn't mind the Browns taking a shot on him, but I think he'll really only shine when paired with a real #1 receiver.
The models absolutely love Corey Coleman. He ranked first in PS this year, and his score is actually one of the highest of all time. He was 7th in PI, and second in SS. He compiled the same number of receiving yards as Doctson in his final year while being a year and a half younger and playing in a run first offense. Coleman caught a touchdown 1 out of every 20 times Baylor ran a pass play. That's insane. It also means there are reasons to feel dubious about this projection, since it does rely on such a low volume. I'll just quote Football Outsiders here, as their assessment mirrors my own:
The bottom line is that you could fairly argue that Coleman is the second coming of Jerry Rice, another Stephen Hill, or anything in between. There is simply no way to quantify the amount, if any, that Baylor's offense contributed to Coleman's ridiculous numbers. Although Coleman's Playmaker Projection is higher than Amari Cooper's projection last year, Coleman is certainly a much riskier prospect. That said, mid-first-round picks bust all the time, and a team in need of a wide receiver could do a lot worse than to select a player whose numbers suggest potential greatness.
Size and hands may be an issue, but the Biletnikoff winner certainly provides some playmaking ability. Don't be surprised if he goes earlier than some people are expecting.
There are a few other prospects worth keeping an eye on. The projections suggest Pharoh Cooper and Tyler Boyd are better prospects than Doctson and Treadwell. Braxton Miller ranks near the bottom, which isn't surprising given how the models are constructed. I think he might be an example of people falling in love with physical tools. There's obviously a great athlete in there, but it would be awfully hard to justify using an early draft pick on someone so risky with so many other high upside options around. Fellow OSU receiver Michael Thomas didn't fare well either, but there is reason to believe he's being underrated. OSU had a lot of options on offense, so even though his talent might normally have led to a higher market share, he was relegated to a secondary role.
Overall, the projections don't seem to think there's a consensus number one receiver in this draft, besides possibly Coleman. There are a lot of guys who project as good players, but not a lot of difference makers. It will be interesting to see if the Browns draft strategy matches what we see here.