Wide Receivers as an Example
Last post, we provided a general description of the A2B™ and discussed its utility for player evaluation. This time, we are going to demonstrate the power of the A2B™ for a position that some sources1.2 suggest NFL combine data is not very useful for: the wide receiver. Some background before we begin – the wide receiver A2B™ was developed and validated using data on a sample of nearly 600 prospects since 2000. While the position of wide receiver has changed over this time, including such a wide time-frame helps to ensure that the A2B™ will be useful, even as the position continues to evolve. As it stands now, the A2B™ is extremely useful in predicting future player performance. Specifically, the A2B™ predicted numerous NFL outcomes such as career length, number of receptions, number of yards, number of touchdowns, and number of return yards.
So let’s dive into the wide receiver A2B™ and learn how it identifies player types, quantifies player athleticism, and forecasts NFL potential.
Wide receivers in the NFL are a diverse group of individuals. Players range from huge, athletic anomalies like Calvin Johnson to smaller, elusive receivers such as Antonio Brown and everything in between. When a team is looking for a wide receiver, it is more likely that they are looking for a specific type of player that fits their needs. One way to simplify and describe this extremely varied group of players is by creating player types. The wide receiver A2B™ Player Types are defined by the relationships among the 5 measured domains of player athleticism: 1. Overall Athleticism, 2. Speed, 3. Size, Explosion, Power (SEP), 4. Quickness, and 5. Strength. The figure presents four sample wide receiver A2B™ Player Types, which we describe in more detail below.
Speedster: This WR group consists of good athletes who are exceptionally fast and explosive (Mike Wallace).
Elite: This WR group consists of great athletes with exceptional SEP and strength (Calvin Johnson).
Slot/Returner: These WRs are good athletes, but smaller in size, power, and explosion (Steve Smith Sr.).
Possession: These WRs are bigger and explosive (i.e., higher SEP), but tend to have lower overall athleticism (Larry Fitzgerald).
Generally speaking, the “Speedster” and “Elite” wide receivers have the best NFL outcomes. However, they are also the rarest types of receivers; due to their rarity, it makes understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the available wide receivers in other A2B™ Player Types critical information for an organization to have.
Knowing Player Type is valuable, but even within these groups individuals differ. For this reason, the A2B™ includes specific Domain Scores. As noted earlier, for wide receivers, there are five key domains: 1. Overall Athleticism, 2. Speed, 3. Size, Power, Explosion (SEP), 4. Quickness, and 5. Strength. Let’s take a look at the domain scores of a few recent “Elite” wide receivers to see how their A2B™ scores can be used to differentiate prospects. For interpretation purposes, we are showing prospect’s percentile scores from 0-100 (50 being average). This means that when a player gets a score of 55 on overall athleticism, they are more athletic than 55% of all wide receivers.
Looking at the A2B™ Domain Scores, we can see that Calvin Johnson and Julio Jones are substantially better overall athletes than Vincent Jackson. Further, given their overall athleticism, Julio Jones and Calvin Johnson also possess better than expected speed (i.e. score greater than 50) whereas Vincent Jackson’s speed is more in line with his overall athleticism (speed of 48, slightly below average). All of these receivers have exceptional SEP and above average strength, which is not surprising because these attributes define the “Elite” Player Type. In sum, the metrics suggest that both Jones and Johnson have superior athletic profiles compared to Jackson.
Wide receivers can add value to their team on both offense and special teams as a kick/punt returner. For this reason, we provide A2B™ NFL Potential scores that can range from 0-100 for prospects in both areas. While all 5 domain scores are considered in calculating a player’s NFL Potential score, our research suggests that Overall Athleticism, Speed, and SEP are most critical to wide receiver success in the NFL. A score of 50 is average, but it is fairly uncommon to see players with potential scores above 80. Below are the ten active NFL wide receivers (as of 2015) with the highest WR and Returner A2B™ NFL Potential scores, which are based solely on Combine/Pro-Day data.
As you can see, high A2B™ NFL Potential scores create a list of elite NFL athletes. From the WR list, 6 players made at least one Pro-Bowl (5 of whom were voted to multiple Pro Bowls) and 3 players are still relatively new in the league (start in 2012 or later). From the Returner list, 5 have made the Pro Bowl and 3 have multiple Pro Bowl appearances.
What’s up next?
In this post, we showed what the A2B™ looks like and how it provides useful insights for assessing wide receiver attributes for existing NFL players. Next time, we are going to get into what the A2B™ has to say about the top-ranked wide receivers in the 2016 draft class.
- Kuzmits, F. E., & Adams, A. J. (2008). The NFL combine: does it predict performance in the National Football League?. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 22(6), 1721-1727.