« back to all articles
« back to all articles

School Size Matters (sometimes)

Win with personalized expert advice from Fantasy Football King
john-brown-wide-receiver-cardinals

During my relatively short time writing about the fake football, I’ve noticed something of a fetishization of a certain group of player, the small-school (Division 2 or lower) WR. This brand of player seems to personify something of a secret, exotic, knowledge that fantasy writers can’t wait to scream “FIRST” over when said WR breaks out. I began noticing that almost every player from a FCS school was equipped with an off-the-charts College Dominator Rating, throwing gasoline on a small, yet vocal fire.

Brushing this off as just in my head, there was a line that I read in some publication stating

“Small WRs need to look good on film to get noticed.”

Then it clicked for me,

“Small-school WRs usually need to have insane College Dominator Ratings to get noticed.”

Much like high speed/agility numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt in smaller players, my thinking is, Yards Per Reception (YPR), Breakout Age, and College Dominator Rating need to be monitored with a careful eye in players from smaller schools. Follow me down the rabbit hole as we find out!

Methodology

*WRs were split into three cohorts:
1. Major Programs — five power conference schools, plus Notre Dame
2. Mid-sized Programs — all non-major division I programs
3. Small Programs — all FCS and division III programs

*Outliers (College QBs, return specialists) and non-qualifiers (mostly regarding to breakout age) have been removed from the sample.

*Everyone listed as a WR on PlayerProfiler database that was eligible to be used in the study has been included.

*In the spirit of baseball’s 20-80 scouting scale, and the Madden franchise player scouting ratings, players have been divvied into groups relating to percentile amongst their cohort. These ratings have been given descriptors, partially to give verbiage to the numbers you see here.

Deceptive Dominators

Dominator

College Dominator Rating – School Size Percentile Breakdown

OBSERVATIONS

• Well I’ll be Silky Johnson at the Playa Hater’s ball, there is slight dominator inflation at the mid-sized school level, and drastic inflation at the small-school level.

• The Tennessee Titans rookie class is a prime example of the deflated dominator ratings of major college performers, compared to those of small college players. Dorial Green-Beckham posted a 51st percentile dominator rating at Missouri (SEC), and Tre McBride posted a 70th percentile dominator rating at William and Mary (Division 2). Despite McBride’s dominator rating being 19 percentile’s higher, we should both regard their most dominant seasons as average, due to the top-heavy nature of small college WRs. In fact, McBride himself is far closer to posting a “fringe” (slightly below average) score, than Green-Beckham was.

• From last year’s class, a stark example of this inflation can be seen with John Brown and Odell Beckham. Brown posted a 81st percentile dominator rating while at Pittsburgh State (located in Kansas), and Beckham posted a 61st percentile dominator rating while at LSU. If you want to take the stat at face value, you could make the argument that John Brown had better collegiate production than Beckham. If you ever hear this argument, please click/run away, as you’re dealing with a charlatan. Beckham’s 61st percentile score should be considered more impressive due to the degree of difficulty, and relative to other receivers at his level.

• Some notable rookies that have been knocked for having low dominator ratings such as Chris Conley (43rd percentile), and Jaelen Strong (48th percentile) should be given a bit of a reprieve. While what they did wasn’t anything special, these seemingly below average ratings are the norm for pro prospects that played in a major conference.

• In an interesting turn, while their average dominator ratings are higher, the top levels of mid-school dominator rating are lower than either the big or small schools. I attribute this partially to the proliferation of spread and air raid offenses at that level, which require a multitude of receiving options.

• On that note we have to possibly re-evaluate two WRs from the 2014 draft class, Ryan Grant and Jeff Janis. Grant and Janis both managed an 88th percentile dominator rating, and Grant achieved his at a level where it is arguably harder to post those numbers. While Janis is far and away superior as an athlete, by observing them relative to their completion level, Grant rates out as “Great” (and nearly elite), while Janis is merely “Above Average” to the average small school WR.

• The highest rated WR relative to completion level (Titus Davis) in the 2015 draft class came from a mid-sized school. Davis’s 93rd percentile dominator rating places him in the top 3% of all mid-sized college WRs in the current playerprofiler.com database. An undrafted free agent with the Chargers, despite unappetizing measurable, Davis needs to be monitored.

• Please don’t think of this as a damning article for small-college WRs, just simply a brake-pump. A dominator rating at or above the 94th percentile (helloooo Charles Johnson) is still scintillating, you just need to remember that dominator ratings that appear above average, are really par for the course.

charles-johnson-wide-receiver-vikings

Charles Johnson Advanced Metrics Profile

• Some notable small-school prospects that you need to be keeping your eye on, Rasheed Bailey (98th percentile), Milton Williams (95th percentile), and Tello Luckett (95th percentile).

In conclusion, I know that if I utter the phrase “too many mouths to feed” on this website in anything other than a satirical context, the RotoUnderwold Secret Police, will take me to the unsavory black-site RotoUnderUnderworld to chill with the dementors, so I attribute the lower average dominator rating in larger schools to the fact that there is both a higher talent level on the offensive, and defensive sides of the ball. At lower levels, the replacement level bar is much lower, therefore a professional-worthy player is going to stick out more, and demand more of the offense. Also, a lower-level team is encouraged to spam this advantage due to the fact that even if schemed against, the most effective option is to force targets towards said small-school WR. At higher levels, a better replacement-level player, as well as more talented defenses necessitate a more balanced approach, thereby increasing the difficulty of posting a top dominator rating.

The Platypus in the room: College YPR Evaluated

YPR

Yards Per Reception (YPR) – School Size Percentile Breakdown

OBSERVATIONS

• When Europeans were first presented sketches of what we now know as a platypus, they dismissed it as a joke, something so bizarre as not to be believed. This is somewhat analogous to what I felt while taking a look at YPR ratings for WRs from mid-sized colleges. We’ll get back to that point later, but I feel it’s the most important takeaway form this look at YPR.

• At big schools, you can take YPR at face value, at it nearly matches what we could expect from a normally distributed sample percentage for percentage.

• There is slight inflation amongst small schools. This again is to be expected, as even if a NFL prospect-grade WR at a small school is held back by bad quarterbacking, he should be able to beat inferior defenders for long gains. An average small-school WR should be posting above average YPR numbers relative to the total population, but not as inflated as a dominator rating.

• In possibly the weirdest finding of everything in this study, the average mid-sized school WR posts the lowest YPR of all the cohorts. I have triple checked this fact, and it’s stood the test of repeated looks. One could make an argument that the fact that receivers at this level are simply less talented, and thus produce a lower YPR, but I don’t believe this is the case.

• As fans of the Jets, Browns, Bills, and most bottom-feeding NFL team’s know, there exists a HUGE gulf between competent starters and lower-tier quarterbacks. Now imagine that gulf, but instead of 32 teams, there were 128 teams. Theoretically, the best HS QBs are always going to larger and more prestigious schools, sometimes willing to make the trade early playing-time to do so, therefore widening the gap between big-school and mid-school QBs even further. Also, if one of those quarterbacks at a big-school feels the need to attain playing time, the way the NCAA transfer rules are structured, he’s usually better suited transferring to a non-Division 1 school, giving the smaller schools, at least in theory, some higher-end QBs.

• This perceived dearth of quality quarterbacking has been played out in the NFL draft. Of the 62 quarterbacks that have been selected since 2010, only 15 (23%) have been from mid-sized schools. Of these QBs, only Colin Kaepernick and Blake Bortles have become their team’s primary starter, with mixed results. Please watch Bortles get pick-sixed now.

• The defenses at mid-size level are ideally situated to take advantage of bad quarterbacking. In that same time span, mid-sized colleges have produced twelve defensive backs that have at least one or more years as their team’s starter, according to profootballrefeference.com. Without even looking at linebackers and defensive linemen, it’s safe to say that at the mid-sized schools, defenses are talented enough to limit explosive plays, and also have the upper hand in some situations.

• Again going back to less-than ideal quarterbacking, to hide this deficiency, teams may employ less-risky short passing, thus driving down YPR even more. I expect YPA numbers for QBs from mid-sized schools to be depressed as well.

In conclusion, the findings thus far make a player such as Breshad Perriman all-that-more impressive. His 68th percentile dominator rating is above average for his mid-sized school cohort, and he possesses the highest YPR (95th percentile) of all mid-sized receivers. Combine this all with freaky-deaky George Clinton mother-ship levels of athleticism, and Perriman profiles as a must-buy in 2015 and beyond.

Breakout! Age

BreakoutAge

Breakout Age – School Size Percentile Breakdown

OBSERVATIONS

• Of all the production based metrics measured by playerprofiler.com for WRs, this delve produced the least interesting factoids.

• Nearly every cohort followed, at least somewhat, what would be expected along a normal distribution.

• While statistically it looks easier to breakout at a big school, the large number of DNQ’s show that it’s not exactly easy to breakout.

• If I had to guess, the mere fact that big schools get nearly all major recruits, which theoretically are the most likely to be “phenoms” ready to play major college football right away (think Amari Cooper, Sammy Watkins) drives down the breakout age.

In conclusion, this exercise revealed that the mid and small schools, possibly dealing with less polished players, have a lower average Breakout Age on PlayerProfiler.com.

Summary

These are just some of my thoughts and initial observations on this extremely meaty data set. Playerprofiler.com is a resource for uncovering the intrinsic quality of skill position players, but context matters. Much like the superb bird of paradise, some players within the database may be statistically puffed up to look more impressive than they really are, and some are simply more impressive once you put it into context.

Brian Tesch has written for FFlockerroom.com, FantasyPros.com, and should get around to writing for NumberFire if he can manage his time better. He was once trucked by Jonathan Stewart and has finished a large pizza in under an hour. If you found this work interesting, please feel free to leave a dollar or twelve in the jar, as he’s saving up to be certified as a scout. You can also follow him on Twitter dot com @TheRealTesch.