Modeling success for wide receiver draft prospects

Kevin Cole builds a wide receiver prospect model to find the most relevant collegiate stats for NFL success.

| 10 months ago
(AP Photo/Patric Schneider)

(AP Photo/Patric Schneider)

Modeling success for wide receiver draft prospects


Now that the NFL season has officially ended, #DraftTwitter is in full effect. There is no shortage of opinions on which players should go where, as film-grinders and number-crunchers let you know their favorite prospects. And this is all happening weeks before the NFL combine and months before the NFL draft. Even if you take a numbers-based approach to draft prospect evaluation, you still have find the most relevant stats and how much to weigh them.

In an attempt to do just that, I created a logistic regression model to predict wide receiver success, before the NFL combine and draft. Therefore, we can use the model today to judge 2016 prospects, and then update the model as more information becomes available in the coming months.

There are many different ways to measure success. You could have a fantasy-point threshold, or total career stats like receiving yards. At this time of year, we’re ultimately concerned with success for our dynasty rookie picks. I measured success as having one top-24 scoring season (PPR) in the first three years in the NFL. If a wide receiver has one top-24 early in his career, his market value is probably high enough at that point to make a profit on your initial rookie draft investment.

Armed with 15 years of college and NFL wide receiver data, I trained the model on 254 wide receivers to enter in the NFL from 2000 to 2013 (I didn’t go through 2015 in order to have three years of NFL experience). Then, I tested the model on another randomly chosen 136 prospects to make sure that the model had true predictive power.

In the process, I narrowed down dozens of collegiate stats to four that maximized predictive power:

1. Draft age

2. Career market share of receiving yards (i.e. a prospect’s total receiving yards for all collegiate years as a fraction of total team receiving yards)

3. Receptions per game (final season)

4. Receiving touchdowns per game (final season)

All four variables were found to be significant in the model, with a younger draft age, higher career market share, and more receiving touchdowns all being indicators of future success. Interestingly, fewer receptions per game is a positive in the model, likely because the model prefers receivers who accumulated yards and touchdowns through efficiency, not just high volume.

These four variables do a remarkable job predicting whether a wide receiver prospect will have a top-24 season in his first three years. The model correctly predicted that a wide receiver prospect in the test set would be a success or failure 80.9 percent of the time.

Remember, this model doesn’t incorporate any data from the NFL combine, and more importantly, the NFL draft. Draft position is clear one of the most important variables for predicting prospect success. That said, our model was only slightly less successful at predicting success than draft position (38.5 percent versus 42.3 percent).

Here are the top-15 “success” scores from the 2000-2013 data set.

Name Year Draft Pos Age Career MS Rec/Gm RecTD/Gm Top 24 Predict
Larry Fitzgerald 2004 3 21 0.41 7.1 1.7 1 0.91
Chris Henry 2005 83 22 0.47 4.7 1.1 0 0.88
Antonio Bryant 2002 63 21 0.39 4.2 0.9 0 0.82
Calvin Johnson 2007 2 22 0.42 5.4 1.1 1 0.78
Charles Rogers 2003 2 22 0.43 5.7 1.1 0 0.78
Koren Robinson 2001 9 21 0.36 5.6 1.2 1 0.78
Hakeem Nicks 2009 29 21 0.38 5.2 0.9 1 0.75
Quincy Morgan 2001 33 24 0.48 4.9 1.1 1 0.74
Dez Bryant 2010 24 22 0.35 5.7 1.3 1 0.72
Lee Evans 2004 13 23 0.43 4.9 1.0 1 0.70
Sidney Rice 2007 44 21 0.39 5.5 0.8 1 0.69
Nate Turner 2001 UDFA 23 0.47 5.5 0.8 0 0.68
Deandre Hopkins 2013 27 21 0.29 6.3 1.4 1 0.67
Demaryius Thomas 2010 22 23 0.43 3.3 0.6 1 0.63

The “Predict” column gives the model score (between 1 and 0) for each prospect indicating the likelihood of a top-24 PPR season in a prospects first three years, and the “Top 24″ column indicates whether or not the receiver actually had a top-24 PPR year in his first three seasons. Draft position is listed in the table only for reference; it was not part of the model.  

It should come as no surprise that our model favors some top-5 NFL draft picks, like Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson, who combine a younger age, dominant career market share, and touchdown-scoring prowess.

Since our model only is concerned with production and age, second- and third-round picks like Chris Henry and Antonio Bryant score just as high as top-5 picks, despite the fact that both had their draft position negatively affected by off-the-field issues. 

It might surprise some to see Hakeem Nicks so high on the list, but he had incredibly strong college production at a young age. Nicks initially carried that through to the NFL, but mounting injuries turned the once promising star into a replacement-level player.

Our model likes did a great job of finding successful players who were in the 20-50 draft position range, like Dez Bryant, DeAndre Hopkins and Demaryius Thomas. The success rate for picks in this range is much lower than for our model, and there were some very early NFL draft selections that our model didn’t look kindly upon (Tavon Austin only has a predict score of 0.09).

Now that we have our pre-combine, pre-draft model for predicting success in place, in the next article I will apply the model to 2016’s wide receiver draft class.

In the meantime, below is a sortable database that you can explore and see how all the receivers who entered the NFL from 2000-2013 fared in the model.

Kevin Cole is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy. You can follow him on Twitter at @Cole_Kev

NameYearDraft PosAgeCareer MSRec/GmRec TD/GmTop 24Predict
Larry Fitzgerald20043210.417.081.6910.91
Chris Henry200583220.474.731.0900.88
Antonio Bryant200263210.394.20.900.82
Calvin Johnson20072220.425.431.0710.78
Charles Rogers20032220.435.671.0800.78
Koren Robinson20019210.365.641.1810.78
Hakeem Nicks200929210.385.230.9210.75
Quincy Morgan200133240.484.921.0810.74
Dez Bryant201024220.355.671.3310.72
Lee Evans200413230.434.92110.7
Sidney Rice200744210.395.540.7710.69
Nate Turner20010230.475.50.8300.68
Deandre Hopkins201327210.296.311.3810.67
Demaryius Thomas201022230.433.290.5710.63
Michael Jenkins200429220.414.230.5400.61
James Hardy200841230.376.081.2300.57
Ashley Lelie200219220.2871.5800.56
Justin Mccareins2001124230.4260.9110.56
Dwayne Jarrett200745210.35.83100.55
Jabar Gaffney200233220.326.091.1800.54
Alshon Jeffery201245220.353.770.6210.53
Plaxico Burress20008230.385.5110.53
Robert Ferguson200141220.415.80.600.52
Santonio Holmes200625220.314.420.9210.52
Jarett Dillard2009144240.356.691.5400.5
Keenan Allen201376210.376.780.6710.5
Ron Johnson2002123220.345.090.8200.5
Steve Smith200174220.373.50.410.5
Braylon Edwards20053220.348.081.2510.48
Kenny Britt200930210.397.250.5800.47
Rashaun Woods200431240.395.921.1500.47
Mario Manningham200895220.326110.46
Sam Hurd20060210.245.421.0800.46
Dante Ridgeway2005192210.429.550.7300.45
Stephen Hill201243210.272.150.3800.45
David Terrell20018220.275.731.1800.44
Justin Gage2003143220.386.830.7500.44
Michael Crabtree200910220.277.461.4610.44
Deion Branch200265230.460.7510.43
Earl Bennett200870210.376.250.4200.42
Marquess Wilson2013236210.335.780.5600.42
Robert Woods201341210.285.850.8500.42
Stedman Bailey201392230.268.771.9200.41
Golden Tate201060220.37.751.2500.4
Torrey Smith201158220.285.150.9210.38
Malcolm Kelly200851220.283.50.6400.37
Reggie Williams20049210.347.420.6700.37
Aj Green20114230.346.33110.36
Justin Blackmon20125220.319.381.3800.36
Dez White200069210.2740.4500.35
Percy Harvin200922210.233.330.5810.35
Trevor Gaylor2000111230.294.82100.35
Troy Williamson20057220.283.910.6400.35
Eric Page20120210.379.620.7700.34
Josh Reed200236220.47.830.5800.33
Chad Johnson200136230.293.080.6710.32
Devier Posey201268220.2730.500.32
Rueben Randle201263210.233.790.5700.32
Aundrae Allison2007146210.325.640.3600.31
Michael Clayton200415220.35.570.7110.31
Shaun Mcdonald2003106220.286.210.9300.31
Todd Pinkston200036230.264.36100.31
Dezmon Briscoe20100210.297.640.8200.3
Jermaine Kearse20120220.273.620.5400.3
Jeremy Maclin200919210.267.290.9310.3
Mike Williams2010101230.3670.8610.3
Aldrick Robinson2011178230.264.64100.29
Brandon Lloyd2003124220.285.420.7500.29
Courtney Roby200568220.2950.6400.29
Leonard Hankerson201179220.245.54100.29
Maurice Stovall200690210.215.750.9200.29
Roy Williams20047230.345.380.6910.29
Reggie Wayne200130230.253.910.9110.28
Roddy White200527240.315.921.1710.28
Jason Hill200776220.244.10.700.27
Julio Jones20116220.3260.5410.26
Marvin Mcnutt2012194230.316.310.9200.26
Naaman Roosevelt20100230.336.360.8200.26
Josh Boyce2013102220.295.080.5400.25
Jamaar Taylor2004168230.294.170.6700.25
Kevin Curtis200374250.436.730.8200.25
Greg Jennings200652230.318.911.2710.24
Mike Wallace200984230.2730.5410.24
Santana Moss200116220.274.090.4510.24
Troy Walters2000165240.366.730.9100.24
Andre Johnson20033220.224.330.7510.23
Adrian Madise2003158230.332.910.1800.23
Darrell Hill2002225230.263.450.6400.23
Damian Williams201077220.315.830.500.23
Chris Chambers200152230.345.780.5610.22
Desean Jackson200849220.295.420.510.22
Hank Baskett20060240.356.090.8200.22
Quinton Patton2013128230.338.671.0800.22
Arrelious Benn201039220.283.170.1700.21
Bobby Wade2003139220.327.750.6700.21
Darius Watts200454230.286.170.9200.21
Marko Mitchell2009243240.314.690.7700.21
Nate Burleson200371220.3711.5110.21
Scottie Montgomery20000220.274.640.4500.21
Terrence Edwards20030240.294.540.8500.21
Titus Young201144220.255.460.6900.21
Rishard Matthews2012227230.367.580.6700.2
Cedrick Wilson2001169230.225.641.0900.19
Deon Butler200991230.263.620.5400.19
Devard Darling200482220.223.850.5400.19
Doug Gabriel2003167230.276.250.9200.19
Darius Reynaud20080240.284.920.9200.19
Kendall Wright201220230.38.311.0810.19
Lance Moore20050220.216.921.0810.19
Steve Johnson2008224220.164.62110.19
Ty Hilton201292230.325.540.5410.19
Brian Robiskie200936220.183.230.6200.18
Chris Givens201296230.316.380.6900.18
Dwayne Bowe200723230.2350.9210.18
Keenan Howry2003221220.223.080.3800.18
Kenny Stills2013144210.186.310.8500.18
Kelley Washington200365240.425.750.2500.18
Randall Cobb201164210.246.460.5410.18
Tandon Doss2011123220.255.730.6400.18
Devin Thomas200834220.266.080.6200.17
Eric Decker201087230.316.250.6210.17
Johnnie Morant2004134230.283.830.4200.17
Kwame Cavil20000210.297.690.4600.17
Steve Smith200751220.235.460.6910.17
Vincent Brown201182230.265.310.7700.17
David Anderson2006251230.327.170.6700.16
Danny Farmer2000103230.273.220.3300.16
Derek Hagan200682220.256.420.6700.16
Dennis Northcutt200032230.337.330.6700.16
Demetrius Williams2006111230.234.920.8300.16
Justin Hunter201334220.236.080.7500.16
Kamar Aiken20110220.232.290.1400.16
Keary Colbert200462220.225.310.6900.16
Kahlil Hill2002184230.264.920.6700.16
Kevin Walter2003255220.287.750.7500.16
Patrick Edwards20120240.216.361.4300.16
Dane Sanzenbacher20110230.24.230.8500.15
Jon Baldwin201126220.234.080.3800.15
Jerricho Cotchery2004108220.236.620.7710.15
Kelly Campbell20020220.36.220.3300.15
Kassim Osgood20030230.368.310.6200.15
Markus Wheaton201379220.2370.8500.15
Austin Collie2009127240.38.151.1500.14
Devery Henderson200450220.143.790.7900.14
Jarrett Boykin20120230.294.690.3800.14
Mark Clayton200522230.265.080.6200.14
Max Komar20100230.214.850.8500.14
Patrick Turner200987220.143.770.7700.14
Richard Smith20040240.242.310.5400.14
Tyrone Calico200360230.273.750.3300.14
Travis Taylor200010220.163.780.6700.14
Anquan Boldin200354230.184.640.9310.13
Antonio Brown20100220.287.860.6410.13
Ace Sanders2013101220.143.460.6900.13
Darius Johnson20130220.255.820.4500.13
Eddie Royal200842220.182.540.3110.13
Jeff Maehl20110220.175.920.9200.13
Jordy Nelson200836230.3410.170.9210.13
Jarius Wright2012118230.195.5100.13
Kenny Mckinley2009141220.255.40.400.13
Kyle Williams2010206220.185.180.7300.13
Brandon Banks20100230.334.670.0800.12
Brian Hartline2009108230.21.620.3100.12
Bethel Johnson200345240.233.330.6700.12
Bryant Johnson200317220.213.690.3100.12
Cordarrelle Patterson201329220.193.830.4200.12
Kevin Robinson2008182240.314.580.4200.12
Latarence Dunbar2003196230.222.820.3600.12
Michael Floyd201213230.37.690.6900.12
Seyi Ajirotutu20100230.223.770.5400.12
Brandon Gibson2009194220.254.380.1500.11
Brandon Marshall2006119220.165.690.8510.11
Craig Davis200730220.224.670.3300.11
Danario Alexander20100220.28.691.0800.11
Darrell Jackson200080220.175.580.7510.11
Greg Salas2011112230.268.5100.11
Jordan Norwood20090230.23.730.5500.11
Nick Toon2012122240.254.920.7700.11
Reche Caldwell200248230.25.910.9100.11
Tiquan Underwood2009253220.173.080.3800.11
Armon Binns20110220.176.250.8300.1
Anthony Gonzalez200732230.193.920.6200.1
Brandon Lafell201078240.214.380.8500.1
Billy Mcmullen200395230.294.930.2100.1
Chad Jackson200636210.177.330.7500.1
Chad Owens2005185230.187.851.3100.1
Denarius Moore2011148230.173.620.6900.1
Emmanuel Sanders201082230.317.540.5400.1
Kevin Ogletree20090220.24.830.4200.1
Lavelle Hawkins2008126220.225.540.4600.1
Lashaun Ward20030230.143.250.7500.1
Michael Campbell20110220.163.750.500.1
Marvin Jones2012166220.244.770.2300.1
Mohamed Massaquoi200950230.24.460.6200.1
Austin Pettis201178230.195.460.7700.09
Bobby Brown20000230.1930.4200.09
Brian Clark20060230.142.50.600.09
Brandon Tate200983220.112.670.500.09
Carlton Mitchell20100220.173.640.3600.09
Chris Owusu20120220.193.50.200.09
Eddie Drummond20020220.140.55000.09
Freddie Mitchell200125230.226.180.7300.09
Juron Criner2012168230.196.82100.09
Jeremy Ebert2012235230.195.770.8500.09
Larry Foster20000240.220000.09
Louis Murphy2009124220.112.710.500.09
Marlon Moore20100230.171.150.2300.09
Ryan Broyles201254240.299.221.1100.09
Rod Streater20120240.231.460.2300.09
Tavon Austin20138220.228.770.9200.09
Aj Jenkins201230230.256.920.6200.08
Blair White20100230.195.380.6900.08
Chris Cole200070230.222000.08
Corey Fuller2013171230.183.310.4600.08
Duke Calhoun20100230.255.670.4200.08
Jajuan Dawson200079230.39.60.800.08
Jacoby Ford2010108230.240.4300.08
Jerrel Jernigan201183220.226.460.4600.08
Josh Morgan2008174230.193.290.3600.08
Kealoha Pilares2011132230.156.771.1500.08
Marcus Easley20100230.163.690.6200.08
Nathan Palmer20120230.173.360.500.08
Rod Gardner200115240.254.640.5510.08
Roscoe Parrish200555230.153.580.6700.08
Ryne Robinson2007118230.267.580.6700.08
Ryan Whalen2011167220.193.730.1800.08
Brice Butler2013209230.151.850.3100.07
Doug Baldwin20110230.154.460.6900.07
Davone Bess20080230.228.310.9200.07
Dorin Dickerson20100220.073.770.7700.07
David Reed2010156230.266.230.3800.07
Johnathan Holland2007254220.142.540.2300.07
Jerry Porter200047220.071.360.3600.07
Javon Walker200220240.24.090.6410.07
Limas Sweed200853240.22.710.4300.07
Mark Bradley200539230.11.770.5400.07
Malcom Floyd20040230.215.250.500.07
Samie Parker2004105230.225.920.5400.07
Stephen Williams20100240.316.580.4200.07
Terrence Austin20100220.132.850.3100.07
Talman Gardner2003231230.122.710.5700.07
Taylor Jacobs200344220.166.450.7300.07
Tab Perry2005190230.1620.2700.07
Verran Tucker20100220.152.230.0800.07
Aaron Dobson201359220.25.70.300.06
Arnold Jackson20010240.275.730.4500.06
Carlos Francis200499230.175.770.6900.06
Chaz Schilens2008226230.24.380.3800.06
Derrick Williams200982230.183.380.3100.06
James Jones200778230.155.380.7700.06
Jeremy Kerley2011153230.124.310.7700.06
Marlon Brown20130220.093.380.500.06
Mardy Gilyard201099240.236.690.8500.06
Quentin Mccord2001236230.164.090.5500.06
Riley Cooper2010159230.123.640.6400.06
Travis Benjamin2012100230.193.730.2700.06
Toney Clemons2012231240.163.310.6200.06
Toney Clemons2012231240.163.310.6200.06
Tj Houshmandzadeh2001204240.1940.5800.06
Terrence Murphy200558230.245.090.2700.06
Taylor Price20100230.1940.3600.06
Biren Ealy20070230.112.430.4300.05
Courtney Taylor2007197230.214.150.1500.05
Dwayne Harris2011176240.257.770.7700.05
Derek Moye20120240.233.640.2700.05
David Tyree2003211230.1630.2500.05
Early Doucet200881230.195.70.500.05
Harry Douglas200884230.197.10.700.05
Jason Avant2006109230.26.830.6700.05
Jason Mcaddley2002149230.131.640.1800.05
Jonathan Smith2004214230.2260.3800.05
Kevin Dorsey2013224230.111.50.3300.05
Lee Mays2002202240.294.820.0900.05
Lamaar Thomas20130230.141.150.0800.05
Lamaar Thomas20130230.141.150.0800.05
Mohamed Sanu201283230.288.850.5400.05
Myles White20130230.164.670.500.05
Nick Davis20020230.152.50.2500.05
Rashad Ross20130230.112.850.4600.05
Tj Graham201269230.133.540.5400.05
Tyler Grisham20090220.132.850.0800.05
Triandos Luke2004171230.132.460.3100.05
Terrance Williams201374240.217.460.9200.05
Travis Wilson200678220.132.780.1100.05
Brandon Jones200596230.112.080.2300.04
Bashir Yamini20000230.152.360.0900.04
Chris Davis2007128230.143.770.3100.04
Chris Francies20060240.184.40.500.04
Deonte Thompson20120230.131.620.0800.04
Greg Lewis20030230.133.170.3300.04
Gerell Robinson20120230.165.920.5400.04
Griff Whalen20120220.124.310.3100.04
Joe Adams2012104230.174.150.2300.04
Josh Bellamy20120230.121.850.1500.04
John Broussard2007229240.1540.5400.04
Justin Brown2013186220.145.620.3800.04
Javin Hunter2002206220.123.360.0900.04
Justin Veltung20130220.081.45000.04
Jeff Webb2006190240.227.670.8300.04
Kevin Kasper2001190240.236.830.5800.04
Kelvin Kight20040220.0930.2300.04
Keshawn Martin2012121220.134.710.2900.04
Lavell Boyd20000240.165.450.8200.04
Laron Byrd20120230.110.920.0800.04
Marquise Goodwin201378230.1120.2300.04
Marcus Maxwell2005223220.092.270.1800.04
Reggie Germany2001214230.132.20.100.04
Rodney Smith20130230.132.710.2100.04
Sam Aiken2003127230.215.670.3300.04
Skyler Green2006125220.132.46000.04
Sinorice Moss200644230.13.080.500.04
Tim Carter200246230.153.180.2700.04
Walter Young2003226240.194.670.500.04
Yamon Figurs200774240.172.330.2500.04
Aaron Moorehead20030230.122.670.1700.03
Chris Coleman20000230.194.560.1100.03
Charles Lee2000242230.227.910.4500.03
Donnie Avery200833240.2370.5400.03
David Gilreath20110230.112.090.0900.03
David Givens2002253220.123.3000.03
Dontrelle Inman20110220.14.250.2500.03
Eric Parker20020230.10.92000.03
Ernest Wilford2004120250.254.230.2300.03
Glenn Holt20060220.091.91000.03
Grant Mattos20030220.030.42000.03
Jaron Brown20130230.11.62000.03
John Madsen20060230.135.50.600.03
Jamar Newsome20110240.162.640.2100.03
Jordan Shipley201084250.238.290.9300.03
Kris Durham2011107230.12.910.2700.03
Kerry Taylor20110220.124.50.2500.03
Laveranues Coles200078230.1230.2510.03
Laquan Williams20110230.050.460.1500.03
Michael Bumpus20080230.175.830.3300.03
Matt Jones200521220.010000.03
Marcus Smith2008106230.2270.3100.03
Marcus Vick20060220.020000.03
Taye Biddle20060230.133.180.1800.03
Terrance Copper20040220.197.250.1700.03
Tori Gurley20110240.143.140.2900.03
Terrelle Pryor201102200.150.0800.03
Windrell Hayes2000143240.25.50.400.03
Wes Welker20040230.177.460.6910.03
Wallace Wright20060220.031.20.100.03
Adam Jennings2006184240.081.830.2500.02
Brad Smith2006103230.010.08000.02
Cole Beasley20120230.217.170.1700.02
David Gettis2010198230.134.330.2500.02
Frank Murphy2000170230.030.86000.02
Isaiah Stanback2007103230.020000.02
Josh Cooper20120230.135.920.2500.02
Jacoby Jones200773230.0210.2500.02
Jeremy Ross20110230.11.8000.02
Kevin Cone20110230.050.50.0800.02
Kenbrell Thompkins20130250.192.620.1500.02
Legedu Naanee2007172240.082.690.4600.02
Mark Jones2004206240.072.770.3800.02
Matt Willis20070230.051.620.1500.02
Russell Shepard20130230.060.46000.02
Roberto Wallace20100240.1130.2500.02
Skye Dawson20130230.12.830.0800.02
Tim Wright20130230.1130.1500.02
Antwaan Randle El200262230.010.36000.01
Brandon James20100230.031.850.0800.01
Carlyle Holiday20050240.010.25000.01
Chris Mcfoy20070240.062.430.2900.01
Danny Amendola20080230.118.380.4600.01
Drew Bennett20010230.010.55010.01
Devin Hester200657240.030.5000.01
Daryl Jones2002226230.093.17000.01
Derrick Lewis20020270.212.55000.01
David Nelson20100240.061.790.1400.01
Demarco Sampson2011249260.175.150.6200.01
Herb Haygood2002144250.144.750.3300.01
Julian Edelman20092322300.08000.01
Jamal Jones200502400000.01
Kendrick Starling20040250.122.8000.01
Micheal Spurlock200602300000.01
Nick Williams20130230.072.5000.01
Quan Cosby20090270.217.080.7700.01
Ronald Curry20022352300000.01
Richard Goodman20100230.063.380.1200.01
Rasheed Marshall20051742400000.01
Reggie Mcneal20061932300000.01
Rich Parson20050250.0920.0900.01
Steve Breaston2007142240.154.460.1500.01
Trindon Holliday20100240.010.23000.01
Willie Reid200695240.14.550.0900.01
Andre King2001245280.091.10.100
Chris Williams201302600000

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