Scouting Football Talent – Breaking down wide receiver trends

Utter the position “Wide Receiver” and you might get a dozen different definitions and a myriad of all-time great examples.  Perhaps no other position on the field allows for such a varied makeup within a club and across the League.  Wide Receivers tend to trend more than the Dow Jones Industrials.  Remember “The Smurfs” or “The Three Amigos”?  They’ve now been replaced with the likes of “Megatron” and “The Natural”.

Effectively and Efficiently

This combination of physical talent is bound to come with an adjoining attitude that General Manager’s can only hope don’t mimic some of the recent divas to pass in and out of the National Football League.  When scouting football talent we’ve noted the importance of having a great quarterback in building a successful team, but you better have equally productive receivers on the other end.  The NFL is dominated (much to the angst of Dan Dierdorf and Chris Berman) through the air.  You can argue all you want about running the football, and that even comes from a former wishbone fullback.  But the top teams in professional football are the most efficient passing it.   To do this consistently over a 16 game season and into the playoffs, you better have breadth and depth at the Wide Receiver position.


Though there isn’t any cookie cutter pattern to the athletic build of wide outs, the League has moved to a much bigger frame; Vincent Jackson, Demaryius Thomas, Andre Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson…just to name a few.  By and large, between 2008-2012, the following parameters have described the average prospect entering the NFL Draft;

  • Height – 6006
  • Weight – 202
  • Arm – 31 7/8
  • Hand – 9 3/8
  • Bench – 18
  • 40-yard dash – 4.52
  • Vertical Jump – 32.9”
  • Broad Jump – 9’11”
  • Short Shuttle – 4,26
  • Long Shuttle – 11.77
  • 3-Cone – 6.91

Combine relevance 

Like with all the other positions we’ve looked at, there are certain aspects that jump out in the best of the best at WR.  Starting wide outs exceed peer average (EPA) in 6 of the 7 skill events at the NFL Combine.  Not surprising the 40-yard dash is most statistically significant at 83%, followed by Vertical Jump (80%) and 3-Cone (73%).  The remaining 3 can come from the short shuttle, long shuttle, broad jump and bench press.  Wide Receiver, like Defensive Corner, is the one position that demands indicators for speed, explosion, and quickness as predictors for future success.  No other position on either side of the ball shows the strength of correlation between starting and 40-Yard Dash/Vertical Jump.

Draft numbers

So it’s obvious you can’t have enough and most 53 man rosters will carry 5 or 6 to cover the workload.  There are more WR’s drafted each year than any other position in professional football.  Between 2000-2012 there were on average 33 players taken.  Usually 4 are peeled off the board by the end of the 1st round, another 4 in the 2nd.  By pick #100 you’re looking at 14 WR selections.

Other studies have warranted the upper level draft interest by Personnel Directors, General Managers, and Head Coaches.  Two-Deep roster studies (2009-2011) show WR’s are most likely to be found early in the draft.

  • 1st RD – 20%
  • 2nd RD – 18%
  • 3rd RD – 17%
  • 4th RD – 11%
  • 5th RD – 6%
  • 6th RD – 3%
  • 7th RD – 10%
  • FA – 15%

There’s seems to be a high chance of busting early on a wide out, but if you do your homework and stay patient there’s plenty of talent to be found in the 2nd wave.

Sudden impact

Wide Receiver is also apt to provide your club with a sudden impact of production.  Second only to RB (15%), 12% of the WR’s selected from 2006-2010 outperformed the average NFL veteran (16% ’09, 15% ’10).

Furthermore, though a dated study from ’94-’03, the most successful WR’s (as defined by 56 starts over 5 years) came from early picks;

  • 1-10 – (66.7%)
  • 11-20 – (30.8%)
  • 21-50 – (29.3%)
  • 51-80 – (23.5%)
  • 81-120 – (7.3%)
  • 121+ – (0%)

From the top

I think those are pretty good Geiger Counters to finding where the best of the best come from.  It’s hard to justify as a General Manager looking for a significant long term contributor at the position past the 3rd round, and yet perhaps another 20 are taken to fill out the rosters year after year.  Yes, I’m aware of Marques Colston, but like Tom Brady at QB or Alfred Morris at RB, he’s an anomaly to the equation.  The pillars at the position come from the top picks.

So as the college season winds down and the Draft prep begins to amp up, pay attention to all the pieces of the puzzle when scouting football talent and putting together prospects at Wide Receiver for your team.

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