Evaluating wide receivers by size and speed

Tony Villiotti examines how much these factors really matter in the NFL draft Tony Villiotti

Print This April 23, 2013, 04:00 PM EST

Wide Receivers have the widest height range of any playing positions. In the past 20 years, Wide Receivers as short as 5-7 have been drafted as early as the fourth round (Craig Yeast of Kentucky and Travis Hannah of USC) while receivers as tall as 6-6 (Matt Jones of Arkansas) have been drafted in the first round . This wide range leads one to wonder whether height plays a significant role in determining when a player is drafted.
To answer this question, DRAFTMETRICS divided wide receivers into three groups and then studied the 
drafting patterns for the 1993-2012 drafts. The three groups were:
• 5-10 or shorter(“Group 1”)
• 5-11 to 6-1 (“Group 2”
• 6-2 and taller(“Group 3”)

The following table shows that, with the exception of the first round, Group 2 Wide Receivers are most frequently drafted, with the fewest number of draftees coming from Group 1. Only 10% of first round draftees were 5-10 and shorter. In fact, Kendall Wright was the first first-round draft choice in Group 1 since Mark Clayton in 2005.

DRAFTMETRICS then made a cursory review of the careers of the players comprising the three groups to see if there were any lessons to be learned. DRAFTMETRICS conducted this review this by determining the number of players by group and by round that achieved the milestones of (1) a 5-year career and (2) at least one year as a starter. It is recognized that this cursory reviews ignores the fact that 2009-2012 draftees cannot possibly have had a five-year career. DRAFTMETRICS assumes that this affected all groups equally and, therefore, did not distort the comparative results.

There are no earthshaking trends noted in the next table, which shows the percentage of Wide Receivers who achieve the two milestones discussed above. While there is variation by round, Group 2 and 3 tend to be slightly more successful than the shorter receivers. It is also worth noting that there is an unexplainable drop off in the results of Group 3 in the sixth round of the draft. Without that drop off, for which I have no logical explanation, the results of Group 2 and Group 3 would be pretty close to identical. 

Having reviewed the implications of size alone, DRAFTMETERICS next introduced 40 times into the mix. Does speed itself, or speed in conjunction with size, make a difference at Wide Receiver? This analysis is hampered by the fact that DRAFTMETRICS only has access to the Combine 40 times for just over half the Wide Receivers that were drafted but that is a sufficient number of data points to be meaningful.

Somewhat arbitrarily, DRAFTMETRICS established a cut-off of a 4.50 40 time as the dividing line for this analysis. The following table shows the number and percentage of players in each of the Groups that ran the 40 in less than 4.50 and those that ran 4.50 or slower. It should be mentioned that most of the players studied did run 4.60 or better. Only 30 of the 159 players who ran 4.50 and higher had times higher than 4.60.

As can be seen in the table the percentage of players that ran less than 4.50 was fairly close to the same for Group 1 and Group 2. Group 3 had a far lower percentage of players that ran under 4.50, except for the first round. The importance of speed for a first round draft choice is obvious from the table. Over three-quarters of first round draft choices ran the 60 in less than 4.50 seconds.

One thing DRAFTMETRICS found somewhat surprising is that the percentage of players who run sub-4.50 40 times continued to drop off throughout the draft. It might have been a reasonable expectation that at some point in the draft, NFL teams would take more chances on fast receivers with weaknesses in other areas but this does not seem to have been the case.

The final step in this analysis was to compare the results by the combination of speed and size. (The population size is even smaller for this exercise as a total of only 228 players achieved the milestones.) For this purpose, DRAFTMETRICS measured only the number of players in each size group and speed group who became five-year starters (with the same acknowledgement regarding the 2009-2012 draftees as above). The following table summarizes the results. 

This table does not show a meaningful differences in success rates, but does show that receivers that Group 3 players that run below 4.50 do a have marginally higher overall success rate. This despite have no success at all, still unexplainable, in the sixth round. Wide Receivers who run 4.50 and higher actually have higher success rates than the faster receivers in five of the seven draft rounds. There is such a large difference in favor of the faster Wide Receivers in rounds five and six, though, that the faster players have an overall edge.
To sum it all up, the most significant findings in this analysis are:

• Wide receivers measuring between 5-11 and 6-1 make almost half of the receivers drafted
• There is not a major difference in success among the three “height groups”

     o Slight edge to receivers 5-11 to 6-1
• Receivers 6-2 and taller have an inexplicable lack of success in the sixth round of the draft
• Speed is very big factor in being drafted early, regardless of height

     o 77% of first round receivers run the 40 in 4.50 or less, compared to about 50% in the rest of the draft
• Wide receivers 6-2 and over and who run less than 4.50 in the 40 have a success rate that is moderately higher than the other groups
     o This despite having a 0% success rate in the sixth round
• Wide receivers 5-11 to 6-1 have the highest success rate among draftees who run the 40 in 4.50 or higher
• Faster wide receivers do have a higher success rate, largely the result of rounds five and six

Tony is the founder of DRAFTMETRICS.COM can be e-mailed at and followed on Twitter @draftmetrics

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