Last week, Football Outsiders released their 2018 Playmaker Score on ESPN In$ider, and earlier this week they offered up the content on their site, outside of the pay wall. Playmaker Score measures how FBS wide receivers will perform in the NFL. It factors in collegiate performance, combine measurables, and projected draft position into account to rank receivers based on their projected NFL success.
The San Francisco 49ers need to find younger wide receiver depth, but they are not in quite the critical situation from recent years. Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor, and Kendrick Bourne give them a strong starting point for 2018. They need to find Garçon’s eventual replacement, but they’ve got something on which to build.
That being said, this year’s Playmaker Score suggests it makes sense to wait until the middle or late rounds at receiver. There are some talented players, but Playmaker Score is uncertain of the higher projected receivers. Here is how they rank the top of the class
1. D.J. Moore, Maryland
2. Calvin Ridley, Alabama
3. Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
4. Courtland Sutton, SMU
5. Anthony Miller, Memphis
6. Tre’Quan Smith, Central Florida
7. Equanimeous St. Brown, Notre Dame
8. D.J. Chark, LSU
9. James Washington, Oklahoma State
10. Michael Gallup, Colorado State
They rank based on a projection and a rating. The projection is each wideout’s average receiving yards over the course of his first five NFL regular seasons, while the rating is a percentage that measures how highly the player ranks historically based on the factors evaluated by Playmaker Score.
Moore leads in projection yards, and is second in rating. Tre’Quan Smith is sixth in projection yards, but first in rating. Moore is rated between a first and second round pick, while Smith is viewed as a potential early day three pick. Playmaker Score factors in draft round, but the fact that Smith is more under the radar speaks to the other areas where he excels in this assessment.
Smith is the only underclassman wide receiver in this year’s draft who scored a touchdown in more than three percent of his team’s pass attempts in his best season. Smith also had solid yardage numbers, good yards per reception, and even averaged almost half a rushing attempt per game. Nor should teams be turned off because Smith faced competition in the American Athletic Conference rather than the SEC. For wide receivers, there is no historical correlation between strength of competition in college and success.
Calvin Ridley has been the top receiver in most mock drafts, but Playmaker is a bit down on him as compared to his projected draft status. It does not like his overall production, even adjusted for a run-heavy Alabama offense. Additionally, they don’t like some of his workout numbers.
Nor is it likely that there is any other team-related factor holding Ridley’s projection back. Playmaker did miss somewhat on a former wide receiving prospect from Alabama -- Julio Jones -- but Ridley is a far cry from Jones. Jones was a physical freak who ran a 4.39-second 40-yard dash at 220 pounds. By contrast, Ridley ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds and only weighs in at 189 pounds. Moreover, Ridley had a poor vertical leap (31 inches), which historically has been the workout metric that is most predictive of success for wide receivers (although even the correlation between vertical leap and success is relatively weak). Without outstanding production or workout numbers, it is a little puzzling that Ridley is so highly regarded.
One receiver I have seen mocked to the 49ers quite a bit is Courtland Sutton. CBS Sports Chris Trapasso regularly mocks him to the 49ers in the first round, and I’ve seen some other mocks that include trade backs to land Sutton. They see him having similar production to Ridley, except he was more prolific in touchdowns. They don’t seem him as an eye-popping prospect, but rather a solid big body that makes sense in the second round.
It’s hard to tell exactly when the 49ers plan on drafting aa wide receiver. It’s not a pressing need, but they could use a young big bodied option. Pierre Garçon is signed through 2021, but the team has option years in 2019, 2020, and 2021. My guess is he is around at least through 2019, but maybe the 49ers find a younger option to start developing this year in preparation for Garçon’s eventual departure.