Continuing my Rookie Reflection series, the next player that we’ll take a closer look at is Cleveland Browns Wide Receiver Greg Little. There were a few noticeable differences in the player that we saw in Cleveland as opposed to the wideout that showed flashes for the 2009 North Carolina Tar Heels. Let’s go into further detail on the player that we saw at UNC, take a closer look at Greg Little’s rookie season, and then explore what to expect in the future.
Scouting Report out of UNC
Greg Little was suspended for the 2010 college football season after receiving improper benefits from an agent, so there wasn’t too much evidence to base an analysis from aside from his 2009 campaign. In that season, he caught 62 balls for 724 yards and 5 touchdowns. Those aren’t eye-popping numbers, but considering it was the first full season that he had played WR, it was a promising start. Little carried over his physical running style from his days at running back over to the wide receiver position, flashing a physical running style combined with a nifty spin move. He also displayed very impressive ball skills and his competitiveness was on display in nearly all facets of his game, including run blocking – where Little showed to be one of, if not the best run blocking wide receiver in the draft (when he was motivated). Still, along with his suspension, Little had a few Terrell Owens moments – once punting a ball into the stands after a touchdown and another time taunting an injured opponent (who he had flattened while blocking). Due to the risk of taking a player with some question marks, Greg Little fell to the 2nd round but he was in fact my 3rd ranked wide receiver coming into the draft after A.J. Green and Julio Jones – due to his upside.
In Greg Little’s debut season with the Cleveland Browns, he received several mixed reviews. That’s essentially what happens when your stats look like this:
Going down the list, the targets were an impressive number, especially for a rookie. Those 113 targets ranked him 17th for all NFL wide receivers and highest for all rookies. His 61 receptions placed him 28th for all NFL wide receivers, that is a large disparity in catches per target (54%, 85th for WR). Still, with the inconsistent quarterbacking in Cleveland, it’s tough to attribute that number entirely to Little. The two touchdowns is similarly uninspiring but as most fantasy players know, more targets will often lead (in time) to more touchdowns.
Now, the drops are worthy of their own paragraph. 14 drops is a brutal number. As you can see here, with 61 receptions and 14 drops (therefore 75 catchable balls) Little finished the season with an 18.67% drop rate – meaning roughly 1 out of every 5 balls his way ends up on the ground. This is unacceptable, regardless of how the quarterback play in Cleveland was. As a result, his PFF play-by-play cumulative rating was -12.4 (114th for all NFL wide receivers playing at least 25% of their team snaps). The strange thing is, Greg Little never had near those drop issues at UNC. He would sometimes let the ball get in on his body (which at 230+ lbs, is larger than your average wide receiver) but it seemed to be mostly focus based. Without having played in over a year, rust may have been an issue.
Another reason for the frustration with Little’s drops are the fact that when he did get the ball in his hands, he usually did a nice job of making people miss. His 17 missed tackles forced ranked #1 overall for NFL wide receivers. In fact, Greg Little had the same number of forced missed tackles as running backs Ray Rice and Darren Sproles. This number is even more eye-popping when you consider the fact that Ray Rice and Darren Sproles touched the ball on offense 414 and 205 times respectively, compared to just 64 touches (61 catches, 3 carries) for Greg Little. Of course, there are other things to consider such as how Little is forcing missed tackles on less able cornerbacks/safeties but it’s thought-provoking nonetheless.
Though it’s tough to knock a player for forcing missed tackles, one peeve of mine with Greg Little was that sometimes he was just forcing missed tackles without getting much out of it. While yards after the catch (YAC) will often be skewed by taking into account yards running free towards the endzone, one would expect the wide receiver who led the league in missed tackles forced to rank better than 68th in YAC per reception (4.1). In fact, without his 75 yard reception versus Arizona Week 15, Greg Little may not even be in the top 90 in YAC per reception.
Looking towards the future, it’s tough not to be optimistic about Greg Little. The drops need to stop, but to get drops, you need to get targeted – something which Greg Little was more often than most wideouts in their rookie year. Besides, new offensive coordinator (the team didn’t even have an offensive coordinator in 2011) Brad Childress will probably strangle Little if he drops the ball like that next year. Little will benefit greatly from the addition of a vertical WR opposite of him and with Cleveland expected to address the QB situation- the arrow has to be pointing up. One of Little’s primary objectives this offseason (aside from developing chemistry with the quarterback) should be adding more flexibility, explosiveness, and frankly, to cut weight. This is just speculation, but from the looks of Little compared to when he was at UNC, he has gained considerable bulk – almost too much so. Maybe he spent his off-2010 season taking out his frustrations on the weight room, but with that added muscle it looked like he lost some agility. Ballet, tap-dancing, or yoga classes should be on Greg Little’s to-do list but either way, Greg Little will be an intriguing WR to keep an eye on going forward.
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