NFL prospects are individually difficult to evaluate due to the ever changing nature of football and the total number of people involved in a single play. The best of the best, though, always rise up in different ways, whether it be elite production or measurables. With every single number, metric, and stat we can find NFL comparisons for prospects to further evaluate their NFL viability. When these comparisons match what is seen on tape, fantasy footballers can get an accurate image of individual prospects. Let’s take a look at two of the top WR prospects in 2017 and see how they project to the NFL.
Corey Davis, Western Michigan
The Archetype: Do It All WR 1
Pro Comparison(s): Jordy Nelson/Demaryius Thomas
Corey Davis is the real deal and the role he projects to in the NFL reflects his ability. Throughout his career at Western Michigan, he destroyed the WR1 role for the Broncos and helped them to a 12-1 season that culminated in a Cotton Bowl loss to Wisconsin. Davis showed immense talent and clearly improved in certain areas through his career. Of course, there is always risk with a big, fast, strong smaller school WR, but Davis’ metrics are uniquely compiled.
Athletically, Jordy Nelson and Demaryius Thomas are very similar to Corey Davis. All three WRs break 6′ 3″ and weigh above 200 lbs. Specifically, Davis’ 209 lbs would be more comparable to Nelson’s 217, but Davis just looks like Thomas running around on the field, despite Thomas weighing in at 229 lbs. Davis could stand to add a few more pounds, but he was extremely successful in Division 1 athletics at 209 so the lower weight isn’t worrisome.
When he plays, Davis showcases breakaway speed on slants and deeper passes. However, sidelined with an injury and unable to participate in the Combine or a Pro Day, we won’t be able to get an official 40-yard dash for Davis. Many #DraftTwitter and #FantasyTwitter folks have speculated that Davis would run a 4.45, a time that shows up in the game. A 4.45 40 yard dash would place Davis exactly between Nelson’s recorded 4.51 and Thomas’ 4.41 and would rank in the 78th percentile for WRs.
Athletic comparisons are just the start for these three. Each one recorded a College Dominator score above the 95th percentile. Davis posted a 51.6% score (96th), Nelson a 49.6% score (95th), and Demaryius compiled an astounding 70.9% score (99th) while being the focal point of the Georgia Tech triple option attack. None of these three guys were slouches in college and there is one metric where Davis outpaces even Thomas’ elite college shares. Corey Davis had an 18.7 Breakout Age on PlayerProfiler, which is 95th percentile. Nelson’s was a more pedestrian 20.3 (54th) and Thomas himself posted a 19.7 breakout age (72nd). Looking at the bare production metrics, it is clear that Corey Davis was an elite collegian on par with some of the top NFL talents.
Throughout his career, Davis showcased elite run away speed on short screens and slants. He frequently displayed the ability to catch a pass over the middle and cut through the middle of the field to pick up yards after the catch. When you watch plays like that from Davis is where you start to draw the comparisons to Thomas, who has a mile long highlight reel of slants and screens TDs. Yet where Davis gets a leg up on Thomas is the number of routes he can run with precision and technique. To take advantage of this ability, the Western Michigan coaches lined Davis up all over the field. He frequently played on the right side of the field but saw substantial playing time both in the slot and on the left side.
With this technique and versatility, Davis draws comparisons to Jordy Nelson. He often displayed the same type of downfield route running and receiving ability that pushed Nelson to the top of the NFL. Early in his career Davis commonly ‘body caught’ passes, but that trait disappeared as he grew and matured as a receiver. Davis is an intelligent route runner who understands how to manipulate the opposing defensive back to the best of his advantage.
Collegiately, Davis displayed everything we can ask for in a prospect. He dominated his competition, showed up in games against higher level schools, and improved over his career. The only major flags are the injuries that prevented him from testing at the Combine and Pro Day. While measurements have their place in scouting and projections, we shouldn’t let Davis’ lack of them take away from his 4 years of tape. Davis is a player who didn’t need to prove anything athletically at the Combine, so not participating shouldn’t hurt his draft stock. Matthew Betz (@TheFantasyPT on Twitter) covered Davis’ ankle injury in an article about the injury history of The Big Four in the 2017 draft class.
Now we wait for late April to find out where Corey Davis will suit up in 2017. Frank The Tank(@DynastyFrank on Twitter) wrote a great article about possible landing spots for Davis in the 2017 draft. Any of these spots, along with a few others, would be great and the common thread between them involves Corey Davis set up at the Alpha Dog WR 1 in an offense. Davis could take off in a great spot (Tennessee please) and his ceiling could rise as high as a 100/1500/14 type season over his career. On the downside (c’mon, Corey Davis having downside?!) Davis could be no more than a dominant small school guy who flames out to an NFL WR3 with a 40/600 type season. Clearly, that would be a disappointment for the potential 1.01, but the upside is immense.
Mike Williams, Clemson
The Archetype: Jump Ball Specialist
Pro Comparison(s): DeAndre Hopkins/Alshon Jeffery
Yes, yes, I know. You probably think I made the easy comparison with DeAndre Hopkins. Both Clemson WRs, blah, blah, blah. However, just because it might be the easy comparison, that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad one, but we’ll get to that in a little bit.
Mike Williams has been an enigma for quite some time. He came into his junior season with hopes of continuing the Clemson -> NFL WR pipeline (Hopkins, Martavis Bryant, Sammy Watkins), but fractured his neck in the season opener. In the same article I referenced earlier for Corey Davis, @TheFantasyPT covered Williams’ injury, but has “absolutely zero concerns about Williams moving forward.” Williams missed the entire 2015 season and returned to school to raise his stock once again. He came out of the gates on fire, posting a 9/174 line against Auburn, but cooled off over the next 5 games, never posting more than 6 catches or 70 yards. Then, it finally looked like Williams was relaxed and he took off, posting a combined 71/929/8 over the last 9 games. Williams was undoubtedly an elite college producer, but his College Dominator (27%) on PlayerProfiler was lower than both Sammy Watkins’ (34.2%) and Hopkins’ (39.3%). Not to mention, his Breakout Age, 19.9, while still good, was much later than Watkins and Hopkins whose ages were both 18.2. This sets up another interesting production comparison for Williams: Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery had a Breakout Age of 19.6 and produced a Yards Per Reception of 16.4, nearly identical to Williams’ 16.0.
At 6′ 4″, 218 lbs Mike Williams cuts an imposing figure, but at the NFL Combine the worst case scenario unfolded. He sat out the 40-yard dash, but participated in the explosive drills (Vertical and Broad Jump) and performed poorly, only producing an 115.8 Burst Score (23rd percentile of NFL WRs). Williams needed a good Pro Day to answer speed and athleticism questions. much more so than Corey Davis. Williams delivered, posting a 40 yard dash time of 4.56, which translates into an excellent Height-Adjusted score of 105.0 (81st percentile). With that score, the Alshon Jeffery similarities return. Jeffery, at 6′ 3″, 216 lbs, ran a 4.53 40, leading to a 105.4 Height-Adjusted score. Mike Williams could take Alshon Jeffery’s jersey and practically no one would even notice.
Mike Williams’ strength is contested catches and ‘playing above the rim’. He frequently displays an excellent ability to box out defenders for prime position leading to multiple highlight reel plays. Strong hands and a willingness ‘to go get it’ give Williams a shot at any 50-50 ball. Williams’ route running is fine, not spectacular or unspectacular, and it got the job done in college, but needs to improve if he wants to fully ascend. Along the same lines, YAC is a weakness, but with strength and size, Williams displays some ability to run through arm tackles.
What is it exactly that makes Williams an enigma to dynasty players? His ability to make highlight reel contested catches. The types of plays that go on Twitter and receive national attention. With so much of #DynastyFootball coming from Twitter, it’s almost impossible to avoid the Vines (or whatever they are now) of plays like this first one.
Once we see this highlight, we unconsciously assign more value to this play/player than they might actually deserve. While undoubtedly an amazing catch, those highlight reel plays stick with us, influencing our perception of Mike Williams.
Alshon Jeffery and DeAndre Hopkins have been great players posting career-best seasons of 89/1421/7 and 111/1521/11 respectively, yet both took a down turn in 2016. Alshon Jeffery was, once again, banged up, then suspended, but was still on pace for a 1,000-yard season. Hopkins’ decline was much more worrisome. He was playing with a terrible QB, Brock Osweiler, and it led to a 78/940/4 season. Much of this was due to the terribleness that is Brock, but Hopkins skillset didn’t help. Hopkins is not an athletic separator on routes, but prefers to subtlety gain a foot or two, relying on contested catch situations. When one relies on a QB to force a 50-50 or 60-40 pass, the QB A) Needs to trust the WR, and B) Has to be able to put the ball in a pinpoint location. Brock could do neither and it was reflected in Hopkins’ stats.
As explained before, Mike Williams plays similar to both Jeffery and Hopkins, which can be both good and bad for his future. It means his biggest strength, contested catches, is also his biggest weakness. It means that Williams will be QB dependent throughout his career. He needs a QB with top notch accuracy (hmmm…Marcus Mariota anyone?) or a complete DGAF attitude (Jay Cutler?) to reach his full potential. However, if he if tethered to a ‘safe’ QB (Brian Hoyer, etc.), he’s won’t get contested catch opportunities, therefore losing a ton of value. Mike Williams’ ceiling is as high as a 1300/13 season but as low as Laquon Treadwell’s rookie season, which you don’t want to be anywhere near.