Football Outsiders recently released their 2016 Playmaker Score (Insider only, unfortunately), a score that predicts how FBS wide receivers will perform in the NFL. The score takes collegiate performance, combine measurables, and projected draft position into account to rank receivers based on their projected NFL success.
The score has done pretty well as of late. A quick look back to the 2015 playmaker scores shows the score had Amari Cooper ranked ahead of Kevin White. Cooper’s 2015 season made people quickly forget that White was often ranked ahead of Cooper pre-draft. Hell, Cooper’s 2015 season made people forget about Kevin White full stop. The score even identified Stefon Diggs as a sleeper; a projection that proved prescient.
Given the 49ers need at the position, the 2016 playmaker score is of keen interest. So what receivers does the score like in 2016?
|2||Will Fuller||Notre Dame|
|3||Laquon Treadwell||Ole Miss|
|5||Michael Thomas||Ohio State|
|6||Pharoh Cooper||South Carolina|
|8||Rashard Higgins||Colorado State|
Since this is an insider article we can’t share all of the details here, but a few things jump out. Laquon Treadwell, a player many 49ers fans are crushing on, finished third behind Coleman and Fuller despite being touted as the best receiver in the class. The most damning part of the article for Treadwell? "[Treadwell] is poised to have one of the worst projections ever for a first-round underclassman, joining Jonathan Baldwin, Cordarrelle Patterson, Anthony Gonzalez and Yatil Green."
The playmaker score really doesn’t like senior wide receivers, as they fail at a greater rate than underclassmen that enter the draft. This explains why Josh Doctson is ranked comparatively low despite generating a combine buzz.
The four least productive wide receivers drafted in the first round from 1996 to 2013 were all seniors (A.J. Jenkins, Rashaun Woods, R. Jay Soward and Marcus Nash), even though most of the first-round picks in this time period were underclassmen.
Jenkins and Woods are an awesome group if your end goal is fishing. The only silver lining is that if the 49ers drafted Doctson, it would likely be in the second round.
Perhaps a better target for that early second round pick is Michael Thomas.
Despite the wealth of receiving talent on the team, Thomas managed to score a touchdown on 2.7 percent of the Buckeyes’ pass attempts. Indeed, Playmaker would consider Thomas a better prospect than Treadwell or Doctson, if not for those players’ higher projected draft position.
And if the 49ers are looking for a high upside flyer in the draft, Playmaker Score would recommend Rashard Higgins.
Historically, wide receivers from lesser Division I conferences have fared no worse than their counterparts from the Power 5, and Higgins put up great numbers as a sophomore that reveal his potential. If Higgins were not projected to go so low in the draft, he would be behind only Coleman, Fuller and Boyd in Playmaker Score.
Higgins, however, is far from guaranteed to break out. He has a similar projection to Antonio Brown, who became a star despite being drafted in the sixth round, but also is similar to players such as Dante Ridgeway, Dez White and Jarrett Dillard, who all had strong numbers in college but did not realize their potential in the NFL.
It’s not a mater of if the 49ers will draft a wide receiver, but a matter of when. If the Playmaker Score is as good this year as it was last year, the 49ers might do well at the receiver position by staying away from the Treadwells and Doctsons of the world.