Which wide receivers in the 2021 NFL draft are the best at contested catches, producing out of the slot, and making plays after the catch?
Yesterday, we took a look at three different advanced statistics behind a few of the top wide receiver prospects in the 2021 NFL draft: yards per route run, conversions per route run, and drop rate. Those statistics do a nice job of capturing the overall essence of a receiver’s performance quality. Today, we will be getting a bit more specific. How do the prospects compare in particular aspects of the game?
Winning in jump-ball situations, lining up in the slot, breaking tackles, making explosive deep catches – we’ll be comparing some of the draft’s best wide receiver prospects in all of these categories.
Let’s hop right into it. 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.
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Slot alignment frequency
Who among the draft’s top wide receiver prospects were pure slot weapons? Which players were versatile and which ones were tethered to the outside?
Here is how the group compares when it comes to the percentage of their routes run (plays in which they ran out to catch a pass) in which they lined up in the slot.
*an asterisk denotes a player whose stats are from the 2019 season.
- Marlon Williams: 94.4%
- Kadarius Toney: 86.4%
- Amari Rodgers: 86.3%
- Jaelon Darden: 85.9%
- Rondale Moore: 82.8%
- Terrace Marshall: 82.2%
- Tutu Atwell: 81.7%
- Elijah Moore: 79.8%
- Jaylen Waddle: 68.1%
- Rashod Bateman: 67.1%
- Anthony Schwartz: 51.6%
- DeVonta Smith: 36.9%
- Amon-Ra St. Brown: 34.8%
- Simi Fehoko: 30.3%
- Seth Williams: 26.5%
- Sage Surratt: 22.6%*
- Ihmir Smith-Marsette: 22.2%
- Dax Milne: 20.5%
- Ja’Marr Chase: 17.2%*
- D’Wayne Eskridge: 16.9%
- Tylan Wallace: 12.8%
- Austin Watkins: 12.2%
- Josh Imatorbhebhe: 5.1%
- Nico Collins: 1.4%*
- Dyami Brown: 1.1%
The purest slot weapon of this bunch is Central Florida’s Marlon Williams. Running over 94% of his routes from the slot, Williams led the nation with 999 receiving yards out of the slot.
Sure enough, our 25-player sample features each of the next five players who follow Williams on the FBS leaderboard for receiving yards out of the slot:
- Marlon Williams: 999 (124.9 per game)
- Jaelon Darden: 935 (103.9)
- Amari Rodgers: 917 (76.4)
- Elijah Moore: 888 (111.0)
- DeVonta Smith: 863 (66.4)
- Kadarius Toney: 784 (71.3)
Alabama’s DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle were incredibly efficient out of the slot. Smith and Waddle ranked second and third, respectively, in yards per route run out of the slot. Smith posted a mark of 5.64 while Waddle followed closely behind at 5.38. How amazing are those numbers? The difference between Waddle’s mark and that of the fifth-ranked player (Utah’s Britain Covey, 3.95) is 1.43. That is equal to the difference between the fifth-ranked player and the 34th-ranked player.
LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase rarely lined up in the slot in 2019, doing so on only 17.2% of his routes, but he could not be stopped when he did. Chase averaged 6.49 yards per route run out of the slot, leading the nation. Closely following him at No. 2? That would be CeeDee Lamb (6.11).
Who should teams target if they are looking for someone who can take the top off of a defense?
We’re going to look at two stats here: one for style/usage and one for effectiveness.
First, here is a look at the percentage of each player’s targets that came 20+ yards downfield, and their percentile rank among qualified FBS wide receivers. This gives us a look at how frequently each receiver was used in the deep game.
- Dyami Brown: 32.9% (79th percentile)
- Austin Watkins: 30.9% (74th)
- Tylan Wallace: 30.4% (74th)
- Ja’Marr Chase: 29.8% (76th)*
- Jaelon Darden: 28.6% (69th)
- Sage Surratt: 28.4% (69th)*
- Simi Fehoko: 27.2% (65th)
- Tutu Atwell: 26.8% (64th)
- Nico Collins: 25.8% (60th)*
- Ihmir Smith-Marsette: 25.0% (57th)
- Seth Williams: 25.0% (57th)
- Dax Milne: 23.1% (48th)
- Jaylen Waddle: 21.9% (43rd)
- D’Wayne Eskridge: 20.8% (37th)
- DeVonta Smith: 19.3% (29th)
- Elijah Moore: 18.8% (27th)
- Anthony Schwartz: 18.8% (27th)
- Josh Imatorbhebhe: 18.6% (26th)
- Amon-Ra St. Brown: 17.5% (22nd)
- Marlon Williams: 16.3% (18th)
- Amari Rodgers: 12.1% (5th)
- Terrace Marshall: 11.9% (4th)
- Kadarius Toney: 10.7% (3rd)
- Rashod Bateman: 9.1% (2nd)
- Rondale Moore: 2.3% (1st)
For a look into effectiveness on downfield throws, here is each player’s catch rate on deep targets (20+ yards downfield) in 2020.
- Jaylen Waddle: 85.7% (100th percentile) – 6 for 7
- Kadarius Toney: 77.8% (99th) – 7 for 9
- Terrace Marshall: 75.0% (99th) – 6 for 8
- Ja’Marr Chase: 68.7% (98th) – 24 for 36*
- Dax Milne: 61.9% (93rd) – 13 for 21
- Elijah Moore: 57.9% (88th) – 11 for 19
- DeVonta Smith: 53.6% (86th) – 15 for 28
- Nico Collins: 52.9% (86th) – 9 for 17*
- Marlon Williams: 52.9% (85th) – 9 for 17
- Amari Rodgers: 50.0% (84th) – 6 for 12
- Tutu Atwell: 47.4% (77th) – 9 for 19
- Dyami Brown: 44.4% (75th) – 12 for 27
- Sage Surratt: 44.4% (74th) – 12 for 27*
- Simi Fehoko: 43.8% (72nd) – 7 for 16
- Tylan Wallace: 42.9% (71st) – 12 for 28
- D’Wayne Eskridge: 40.0% (66th) – 4 for 10
- Amon-Ra St. Brown: 40.0% (66th) – 4 for 10
- Rashod Bateman: 40.0% (66th) – 2 for 5
- Jaelon Darden: 37.5% (58th) – 12 for 32
- Seth Williams: 36.0% (55th) – 9 for 25
- Austin Watkins: 35.3% (53rd) – 6 for 17
- Ihmir Smith-Marsette: 30.0% (40th) – 3 for 10
- Josh Imatorbhebhe: 25.0% (31st) – 2 for 8
- Anthony Schwartz: 18.8% (14th) – 3 for 16
- Rondale Moore (DNQ: only 1 deep target)
Ja’Marr Chase set the nation ablaze with his deep prowess in 2019. He was an absolute animal down the field. Chase led the country with 24 deep catches – eight more than any other player – and he did so at a marvelous level of efficiency, snatching two-thirds of the bombs thrown his way.
Jaylen Waddle’s small-sample excellence down the field in 2020 was no fluke. He caught 15-of-19 deep targets from 2018-19 (78.9%) and wrapped up his Alabama career having secured 21-of-26 bombs (80.7%).
Kadarius Toney and Terrace Marshall do not offer the same reputation of career-long deep prowess that Waddles does. Both players took huge leaps in this area in 2020. Toney caught 3-of-8 deep targets (37.5%) over his first three seasons. Marshall caught 8-of-20 (40.0%).
DeVonta Smith tied for the nation-wide lead with 15 deep catches in 2020. Dax Milne ranked fourth with 13 while Dyami Brown, Tylon Wallace, and Jaelon Darden tied for fifth with 12. Elijah Moore placed ninth with 11.
Missed tackles forced after the catch
Which prospects are the most elusive with the football in their hands? Here is how the group stacks up when it comes to their average number of missed tackles forced per reception.