Over the last year, the folks at Pro Football Focus have been expanding their coverage to include college football. They have spent time evaluating film and coming up with a variety of statistics and measurements for college prospects. Earlier in April they started unveiling some of their findings, and I thought one was particularly interesting to share.
PFF has a yards per route run statistic that allows us to see how productive a player based on their entire time on the field in the passing game, and not just when they are the target. They have used that stat at the NFL level, and recently put together a look at yards per route run in college last season. San Francisco 49ers draft pick DeAndre Smelter tops the list. Smelter was targeted 63 times while running 164 routes. His 715 yards amounted to 4.36 yards per route run.
This statistic is not something from which we should draw significant conclusions, but it does give us a little more context. Statistics should be viewed as one more tool in the toolbox we have to evaluate players. You might prefer some statistics over other statistics, but that does not mean you should simply ignore everything you don't know or don't like.
Smelter put together a ridiculous 18.9 yards per catch this past year, and that helped result in a high "Playmaker Score" over at Football Outsiders. Playmaker Score is an attempt to try and figure out who will find success in the NFL. Smelter's score was boosted by playing on a run-first offense where he was the only truly significant receiving threat. FO considers him a potential statistical outlier, in the same vein as Stephen Hill.
Last month, David Neumann broke down some film on Smelter. He pointed to route running and hands as two things Smelter had to work on. As Neumann pointed out, Smelter arrives in a situation where he will not be required to be an impact player from day one. Furthermore, he gets time to work with Anquan Boldin, a wide receiver to whom Smelter has been compared.
Smelter will likely open training camp on the NFI list. Trent Baalke has suggested he might find his way onto the 53-man roster this season, but given the 49ers history with ACL recoveries, odds seems decent he gets the whole year to rehab, learn the playbook, and learn from Anquan Boldin what it takes to be an NFL wide receiver.