NFL Receivers

The latest TMQ article touts unknown receivers over high draft choices.

These plays, in a nutshell, summarize a core fact of NFL life: Receivers who were unknowns early in their NFL careers often outperform megabucks glory-boy high-drafted types.

Among NFL receivers having fine seasons are Danny Amendola, Anthony Armstrong, Miles Austin, Davone Bess, Malcom Floyd, Antonio Gates, Lance Moore and Wes Welker, all undrafted. Other top receivers include Marques Colston, Donald Driver, Garcon, Johnny Knox and Kevin Walter, all late-round draft choices from below-the-radar colleges. And the league’s No. 1 receiver is Brandon Lloyd, who has been waived twice in the NFL and barely played in 2008 and 2009.

Some kind of fluke of the moment? Three of the NFL’s top eight all-time receivers — Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens and Andre Reed — were small-college players.

By contrast, you’d quickly run out of fingers counting recent first-round football-factory receivers who either were busts or failed to live up to their billing. Charles Rogers, Troy Williamson, Matt Jones, David Terrell, Ted Ginn Jr., Michael Clayton, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Ashley Lelie, Reggie Williams, Koren Robinson — not even TMQ has room for a full accounting.

Why do small-school and low-drafted NFL receivers excel where glory boys falter? In most cases, the answer is ego and work ethic.

I don’t know if I buy that a small-school or a low-draft status has any effect on ego or worth ethic. It seems to me that Easterbrook is ignoring data that would invalidate his conclusion. For example, wouldn’t we have to look at all the late-round receivers who didn’t make it? Otherwise, the data set is subject to survivorship bias. Moreover, there are tons of small-school receivers who don’t even make it to the draft. What effect does going to a small-school have on them?

In addition, we’d have to look at the high draft choices who went on to have successful careers. TMQ praises the undrafted Miles Austin over Roy Williams, but says nothing about Dez Bryant, who was drafted in the first round, didn’t go to a small school, and is also a better receiver than Roy Williams. Granted, it’s very early in Bryant’s career to determine how good he’ll be, but I think this is a good example of what Easterbrook is ignoring. See also: Percy Harvin, very gifted first-round receiver from football factory Florida.

I’m not saying these counter-examples invalidate what Easterbrook is saying. What I am doing is pointing out that there is data out there that could invalidate Easterbrook’s conclusion, and he did not look at it.

To be honest, I am apt to doubt his conclusion, at least when it comes to small schools. It reminds me of generalizing about personality based on country, which doesn’t really work. I guess reading Taleb has had some effect on me. (I also saw Zimbardo put up a bell curve when he gave his talk, and I had a visceral feeling of disgust.)

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