Fantasy Football: Statistical Comparisons for This Year's Draft Class
My year-and-a-half-old daughter is curious about everything. She's not at the age where she'll ask "Why?" about anything I say, but she's constantly analyzing how things work while wondering what things are.
She's got these little flashcards with generic words and pictures on them to help her learn the world. One has a tractor on it -- something that sort of looks like a car, but it's got bigger wheels and doesn't do exactly what a car does.
That's the kind of phrasing I have to use when describing some of the items on her flashcards. It allows her to at least sort of comprehend what's being shown -- she's probably only seen a real tractor in real life just once or twice given where we live, but she sees tons of cars every single day.
Sometimes, I've got to use this same method when talking about college prospects. No, no -- you guys aren't on the same mental level as my 19-month-old daughter. She's smarter. (Kidding, kidding.) But the practice of using comparisons -- comparing one player to a player you might've already seen play in the NFL -- can be helpful in understanding what we're looking at with a prospect.
So let's do that. Let's use my running back model (which you can read about here) and my wide receiver model (here) to help find some statistical comparisons in this year's draft class.
Now, before digging in, I want to get a few things out of the way. First, in order to find these comparisons, I'll be looking at the three main production metrics in both of my models, and then I'll combine those production similarities with a player's size-speed profile. For wide receivers, I'll also factor in breakout age. That's the gist of it.
Second, keep in mind that I don't hate your favorite prospect. My model isn't based solely on similarity scores, so these comparables are meant to be enjoyable above all else. You can hit my Twitter mentions with hate, but be prepared for a completely sarcastic response in return.
We'll be looking at nine running backs and nine wide receivers. These player choices were largely based off of Dynasty League Football's current rookie rankings so that you're getting the most fantasy-relevant information.
Cool? Cool. Let's have some fun.
D'Andre Swift, Georgia
Top Comparable: Miles Sanders
Why This Is His Top Comp: Swift could've had a stronger production profile if Georgia decided to use him in some of their blowout wins last year, but having Miles Sanders as a top comp certainly isn't a bad thing. Sanders doesn't have as hefty of a BMI as Swift, but both players had a similar weight-adjusted 40 time (Speed Score), and they both posted very similar final-season numbers in the three main categories my model looks at: total touchdown share (16.4% for Sanders, 17.0% for Swift), reception share (11.7%, 9.4%), and total yards per team play (1.57, 1.53). Again, if you want more information on the prospect model, I've written about it in detail.
Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
Top Comparable: Ezekiel Elliott
Why This Is His Top Comp: Seeing Ezekiel Elliott's name as a top comp for Taylor probably made some of you roll your eyes, but the goal here is objectivity, not "JJ is trying to make everyone who reads this as happy as possible." The truth is, Taylor has one of the most complete production profiles in my database. His Speed Score was actually better than Zeke's, as was his final-season total touchdown share (46.4% versus 39.7%). And Taylor didn't trail Zeke by that much in final-season reception share (10.6% against 13.3%). The real match between the two was with their close totals in yards per team play. While Zeke's came in at a really healthy 2.27, Taylor outproduced it at 2.36.
JK Dobbins, Ohio State
Top Comparable: Darrell Henderson
Why This Is His Top Comp: Despite having a mediocre rookie season from a production standpoint, it's important to remember that Darrell Henderson was a dope prospect. He was one of the most efficient college running backs we'd ever seen. Dobbins doesn't have that level of efficiency in his college production profile, but my model doesn't look at yards per carry. Instead, you'll find very similar scores across total touchdown share (32.9% for Henderson, 26.4% for Dobbins), reception share (7.4%, 8.5%), and total yards per team play (2.14, 2.11). Dobbins came in a little skinnier than expected, but both were under 210 pounds at the combine, too.
Cam Akers, Florida State
Top Comparable: Marlon Mack
Why This Is His Top Comp: Finding a comparable player for Akers was a little more difficult than the other players in the top tier at running back, but his profile does reflect Marlon Mack's a bit. He's thicker, had a slightly better weight-adjusted 40 time, and his final-season touchdown share was a lot stronger than Mack's. But among the two bigger, more important production categories -- reception share and total yards per team play -- the backs were pretty similar. In fact, their final-season total yards per team play was almost the exact same at 1.52 (Mack) and 1.51 (Akers).
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Louisiana State
Top Comparable: Maurice Jones-Drew
Why This Is His Top Comp: Getting an accurate comp for Edwards-Helaire was hard as well given his short stature and mediocre performance at the combine, so using Maurice Jones-Drew as a comparable is more on the higher end of CEH's range of outcomes. But it does make sense. Both players have (or had) nearly identical height-weight measurements, and they both matched up really well in final-season reception share (12.6% for MJD, 12.9% for CEH) and total yards per team play (1.66, 1.74). And, of course, they both have hyphenated last names. Nothing correlates better to NFL success than that.
Eno Benjamin, Arizona State
Top Comparable: Giovani Bernard
Why This Is His Top Comp: Benjamin was 12 pounds heavier at the combine than he was at the Senior Bowl, so it's unlikely he's going to play in the NFL at 207 pounds. Giovani Bernard, who was drafted 37th overall back in 2013, was 202 pounds. Both backs had similar (and pretty mediocre) Speed Scores, and they were big pass-catchers during their final season. Benjamin has the highest final-season reception share among relevant backs in this year's class at 18.0%, while Bernard's was a strong 16.4% during his last collegiate season.
Ke'Shawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt
Top Comparable: Devontae Booker
Why This Is His Comp: We haven't seen Devontae Booker take off in the NFL, but he had reasonable success as a pass-catcher at the start of his career. Like Vaughn, Booker had really strong production at a non-powerhouse program, and the two backs' final-season reception shares (16.5% for Booker, 13.9% for Vaughn) and total yards per team play (1.71, 1.75) match up well against one another. Though, to be fair, Booker did miss a few games, so those numbers should be slightly higher. Vaughn and Booker had similar BMIs, and even though this isn't factored into the comparable, they both transferred after their Sophomore seasons. Just thought that was kind of interesting.
Zack Moss, Utah
Top Comparable: Kareem Hunt
Why This Is His Comp: I'm definitely aware that this comparison is more of a ceiling for Moss -- the likelihood that he becomes Kareem Hunt isn't high. And, to be honest, it's easy to equate any larger back who ran a slow-ish 40-yard dash to Hunt. That's what people do these days. But not only are their size-speed profiles pretty similar, their final-season reception share (14.1% for Hunt, 12.0% for Moss) and total yards per team play (2.01 for Hunt, 1.98 for Moss) are close as well.
AJ Dillon, Boston College
Top Comparable: Michael Bush
Why This Is His Comp: Many may point to Andre Williams as AJ Dillon's top comparable since they both are bigger-bodied players who had a ton of ground-game production with Boston College. Dillon, though, is bigger, faster, and actually has some sort of receiving profile. Andre Williams didn't even catch a pass during his final collegiate season even though he carried the ball 355 times. So enter Michael Bush, who had a good NFL career as a committee-type back while being sporadically pushed into starting roles. Bush and Dillon had really comprable numbers across the three major production categories in my model, and both of them weighed in around 245 pounds at the combine. The main difference is that Dillon looks like the better athlete.
CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma
Top Comparable: Sidney Rice
Why This Is His Comp: Admittedly, my model couldn't find a very strong comparable for Lamb. He's a little smaller in size (BMI), and his "best season" (the model looks at best-season data for wide receivers) receptions per game rate was below average. But he was efficient -- he scored well in yards per team attempt. A lot of analysts have compared him to DeAndre Hopkins, which does make sense from a film perspective, but their analytical profiles don't really match up. Sidney Rice is a better comparison within my model, especially when comparing body type (24.3 BMI for Rice, 25.4 for Lamb) with yards per team pass attempt (3.22, 3.48) and height-adjusted Speed Score (100.66, 98.56). Lamb is likely to have a far better NFL career, but don't forget about Rice's 2009, where he caught 83 passes for over 1,300 yards. He had his moments.
Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
Top Comparable: Stefon Diggs
Why This Is His Comp: Two of the main production metrics my wide receiver model looks at are receptions per game and yards per team pass attempt. Receptions per game has little standalone signal, but when combined with a metric like yards per team pass attempt, which can often favor the hyper-efficient deep-ball players, you get a great pairing. You get players who saw the ball a lot while also being efficient. That's Jerry Jeudy and Stefon Diggs. They had almost the exact same "stat score" in the model (which just weighs the metrics appropriately and spits out a score), and their height-adjusted Speed Scores were nearly identical. The Diggs comp for Jeudy is a lot stronger than the Rice one for Lamb.
Tee Higgins, Clemson
Top Comparable: Marvin Jones
Why This Is His Comp: There are a lot of reasons for Higgins' lack of strong comparables. He didn't do any athleticism testing at the combine, his 6'4'', 216-pound frame isn't the most common at the position, and despite a good breakout age, his production numbers in my model weren't all that great. The closest comp the model could find was Marvin Jones, who lacks the size that Higgins has -- Jones was two inches shorter and 16 pounds lighter at the combine. Their numbers in receptions per game, yards per team attempt, and touchdown share were pretty similar, though, which is why Jones ended up being the "top" comp.
Jalen Reagor, Texas Christian
Top Comparable: James Washington
Why This Is His Comp: I think it's fair to say that Reagor has more explosive potential at the next level than what we've seen from James Washington so far in the league, but similarities are there. Both players had really good breakout ages. Both players are pretty #thicc. They both ended up with a similar height-adjusted Speed Score. And their best seasons were comparable in receptions per game and yards per team attempt. Like I said, I do see Reagor as a more explosive version of Washington in the NFL, but it's not like Washington has done nothing during his two years with the Steelers, so don't tilt too hard if you're a Reagor stan.
Henry Ruggs, Alabama
Top Comparable: Mike Wallace
Why This Is His Comp: Ruggs is probably the most polarizing prospect for fantasy gamers. To me, his real-life value (he's probably going to be a first-round pick and make an entire offense better) may not match his fantasy football value (he may not see great production) all that well in the NFL. To be blunt, no first-round wide receiver with a negative stat score in my model (since 2006) has succeeded as a fantasy football asset at the next level. Fortunately, the sample size is small (nine players fit the criteria), but it's still a red flag. If we were to look at this more optimistically, Mike Wallace is the strongest comparable. He, like Ruggs, wasn't very heavy. He, like Ruggs, was fast. And he, like Ruggs, lacked college production. Wallace's production profile was stronger in my model, but if we give Ruggs the benefit of the doubt given his competition for targets at Alabama, then Wallace makes a lot of sense as his top comparison.
Justin Jefferson, Louisiana State
Top Comparable: Nelson Agholor
Why This Is His Comp: Agholor hasn't totally panned out at the NFL level, but he's flashed upside. So this isn't the worst comparable for Justin Jefferson, who's climbing draft boards after a strong showing at the combine. Agholor and Jefferson really have similar profiles: their BMIs are almost the exact same, they tested similarly as athletes, and they both had really high receptions per game averages in college to go along with just above average yards per team pass attempt rates.
Laviska Shenault, Colorado
Top Comparable: AJ Brown
Why This Is His Comp: Full disclosure: Shenault, in my model, is essentially a worse version of AJ Brown. They're very similar with their outlier-esque size (which is why the comparable hits), and they've got close to the same breakout age, but Brown was better in yards per team pass attempt and touchdown share all while playing with tougher competition. Shenault has a chance to make that kind of yards-after-the-catch impact at the NFL level, though.
Denzel Mims, Baylor
Top Comparable: DJ Chark
Why This Is His Comp: Mims destroyed the combine, and, as a result, he's probably going to be selected pretty high in next month's draft. Another player with a similar profile to that is D.J. Chark, who enjoyed a nice breakout in 2019 with questionable quarterback play in Jacksonville. Both players had average stat scores in my model, neither was an early declare, and they're both built similarly with lots and lots of speed. If you look past what's in the model, Mims had a much more complete production profile at school, making him an even better prospect than Chark was coming out.
Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State
Top Comparable: James Jones
Why This Is His Comp: Aiyuk's numbers are strong, but the fact that he didn't declare early and doesn't have a strong breakout age is at least somewhat concerning. Looking at the model, the top comparable is easily James Jones, who may be a grandpa by now. Like Aiyuk, Jones broke out late, and he had almost the exact same BMI. Their top seasons in the three production metrics matched up incredibly well, too. Jones' best-season receptions per game was 5.4 when Aiyuk's was also 5.4. His best yards per team pass attempt was 3.04 with Aiyuk's at 3.11. And his top touchdown share was 43.5% while Aiyuk's was 38.1%