Wide receiver is no longer an enormous need for the New York Jets, but they could target the position late. Who may be a potential steal?
With the additions of Corey Davis and Keelan Cole coupled up with the retention of Jamison Crowder (for the moment), the New York Jets have a solid four-deep wide receiver depth chart featuring the aforementioned three players and Denzel Mims. Entering the draft, the position is not close to the top of the team’s shopping list.
Nevertheless, with Davis and Mims being the only viable wide receivers under contract beyond the 2021 season, the Jets could certainly still use an infusion of youth and long-term upside at the position. Who could they target in the draft?
Let’s compare the advanced numbers of some of the top wide receiver prospects in the 2021 NFL draft.
Here are the prospects we will be comparing today:
- Jaylen Waddle, Alabama
- Ja’Marr Chase, LSU (2020 opt-out, stats will be from 2019)
- DeVonta Smith, Alabama
- Rashod Bateman, Minnesota
- Kadarius Toney, Florida
- Terrace Marshall, LSU
- Rondale Moore, Purdue
- Dyami Brown, North Carolina
- Amon-Ra St. Brown, USC
- Elijah Moore, Mississippi
- Nico Collins, Michigan (2020 opt-out, stats will be from 2019)
- D’Wayne Eskridge, Western Michigan
- Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma St.
- Amari Rodgers, Clemson
- Tutu Atwell, Louisville
- Jaelon Darden, North Texas
- Simi Fehoko, Stanford
- Seth Williams, Auburn
- Marlon Williams, UCF
- Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Iowa
- Josh Imatorbhebhe, Illinois
- Sage Surratt, Wake Forest (2020 opt-out, stats will be from 2019)
- Anthony Schwartz, Auburn
- Dax Milne, BYU
- Austin Watkins, UAB
If there are any other prospects you’d like to learn about, let me know in the comments.
Yards per route run
Calculated by dividing a player’s receiving yardage total by the number of snaps in which they ran out to catch a pass, this is a great stat for contextualizing a player’s receiving production. The flaw of yards per game is that all players get a different amount of opportunities per game. Some players play nearly every snap and some don’t. Some players play on a team that runs a lot of plays and some don’t. By looking at how many yards each player gains per opportunity, we’re evaluating all of them on the same plane.
Here is how the group ranks in terms of yards per route run in the 2020 season, in addition to their percentile rank among qualified FBS wide receivers:
*an asterisk denotes a player whose stats are from the 2019 season.
- D’Wayne Eskridge: 4.94 (100th percentile)
- DeVonta Smith: 4.39 (99th)
- Jaylen Waddle: 4.38 (99th)
- Jaelon Darden: 4.31 (99th)
- Elijah Moore: 3.85 (98th)
- Dax Milne: 3.75 (97th)
- Ja’Marr Chase: 3.52 (99th)*
- Rashod Bateman: 3.45 (96th)
- Tylan Wallace: 3.26 (95th)
- Marlon Williams: 3.12 (94th)
- Dyami Brown: 3.11 (94th)
- Rondale Moore: 2.96 (93rd)
- Terrace Marshall: 2.91 (92nd)
- Sage Surratt: 2.79 (92nd)*
- Simi Fehoko: 2.73 (91st)
- Kadarius Toney: 2.62 (90th)
- Amari Rodgers: 2.61 (89th)
- Tutu Atwell: 2.44 (85th)
- Austin Watkins: 2.41 (85th)
- Nico Collins: 2.31 (82nd)*
- Anthony Schwartz: 2.31 (81st)
- Seth Williams: 2.05 (69th)
- Amon-Ra St. Brown: 1.85 (59th)
- Ihmir Smith-Marsette: 1.84 (58th)
- Josh Imatorbhebhe: 1.61 (48th)
One of the first things that you notice whenever you compare NFL draft prospects from a statistical perspective is that the bar is very, very high. If a player was below the top-10% tier at his position, his resume pales in comparison to his fellow prospects. For the most part, elite production is required to make it to the league.
In terms of potential steals, Western Michigan’s D’Wayne Eskridge pops off the page. Ranked as The Draft Network’s No. 69 overall prospect and slotting in as the No. 87 prospect at NFL Mock Draft Database, Eskridge led all wide receivers in the nation (minimum 100 routes run) with 4.94 yards per route run in 2020. The fifth-year senior dropped 768 receiving yards over just six games, 33 receptions, and 159 routes run.
Zach Wilson’s top weapon, Dax Milne, was also among the nation’s most efficient receivers. Milne caught 70 passes for 1,188 yards and eight touchdowns over 12 games despite running only 28.1 routes per game – BYU simply didn’t run many plays because they scored so quickly and easily.
Smaller-school prospects tend to dominate these metrics, but whenever a player from a top-tier school is just as marvelous statistically as they are on film, it’s strong evidence that they are superstar material. That’s the case for Alabama’s DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle. Even whilst competing against one another for targets, Smith and Waddle ranked first and second, respectively, in yards per route run among Power-5 wide receivers. The same goes for LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase, who tied with Smith for fifth-best among Power-5 wideouts in 2019.
Keep an eye on Louisville’s Tutu Atwell. While his numbers weren’t amazing over nine games in 2020, he was unreal over a large sample of 13 games in 2019. That year, Atwell averaged 4.33 yards per route run, best in the nation among wide receivers with at least 200 routes run. Despite running only 24.0 routes per contest, he averaged 97.8 yards per game.
Conversions per route run
Receiving production isn’t all about yardage – it’s about first downs and touchdowns as well. Some receivers thrive upon racking up huge chunks of yards while others thrive upon moving the chains. Yardage statistics tend to favor explosive receivers who might lack consistency, while the more consistent chain-movers who do not pick up big chunks are left in the dust.
This stat gives us a look at the other side of the coin. Here is a look at how our 25-player group stacks up according to the percentage of their routes run in which they recorded a first down or a touchdown.
- DeVonta Smith: 19.9% (100th percentile)
- Rashod Bateman: 18.2% (99th)
- Elijah Moore: 17.7% (99th)
- Jaelon Darden: 16.7% (98th)
- D’Wayne Eskridge: 16.4% (98th)
- Dax Milne: 16.4% (98th)
- Jaylen Waddle: 16.3% (97th)
- Tylan Wallace: 15.5% (97th)
- Marlon Williams: 13.9% (94th)
- Terrace Marshall: 13.1% (92nd)
- Dyami Brown: 13.0% (92nd)
- Ja’Marr Chase: 12.9% (93rd)*
- Sage Surratt: 12.7% (93rd)*
- Simi Fehoko: 12.4% (89th)
- Austin Watkins: 12.1% (88th)
- Kadarius Toney: 12.1% (88th)
- Rondale Moore: 11.6% (86th)
- Amon-Ra St. Brown: 10.9% (81st)
- Amari Rodgers: 10.7% (81st)
- Tutu Atwell: 10.5% (80th)
- Anthony Schwartz: 10.5% (80th)
- Marlon Williams: 10.2% (76th)
- Nico Collins: 9.8% (77th)*
- Seth Williams: 9.2% (68th)
- Josh Imatorbhebhe: 7.0% (39th)
Smith separates himself from the pack in this category, leading all qualified FBS wide receivers with a conversion on nearly 20% of his routes.
Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman scored just two touchdowns in five games, but he was a first down machine, snatching 23 of them.
North Texas’ Jaelon Darden is another intriguing later-round prospect, ranked No. 116 at The Draft Network and No. 118 at NFL Mock Draft Database. Darden ranked at the 99th percentile in yards per route run (4.31) and the 98th percentile in conversion frequency (16.7% of routes). The 5-foot-9, 174-pound senior racked up 74 catches for 1,190 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 27 first downs over nine games and 30.7 routes run per game.
USC’s Amon-Ra St. Brown is one of the biggest risers on this list compared to yards per route run. He ranked at the 59th percentile with 1.85 yards per route run, but was much better at producing conversions, placing at the 81st percentile with a 10.9% rate. While his average of 79.7 yards per game doesn’t pop against some of his peers who were even more outstanding in that category, St. Brown snatched seven touchdowns and 21 first downs in only six games, a highly impressive average of 4.7 conversions per game (equal to DeAndre Hopkins’ third-ranked mark in 2020).
Marlon Williams of UCF is one of the biggest fallers. He ranked at the 94th percentile in yards per route run (3.12) but only the 76th percentile in conversion frequency (10.2% of routes). If a player has this disparity, it suggests that his game is primarily built around explosion and massive plays rather than consistency.
Who has the best set of hands in the class? Here is how the bunch stacks up according to their ratio of drops to receptions.