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2024 NFL Draft: Breaking Down WR Talent Outside the 1st Round

With the 2024 NFL Draft right around the corner, and the Buffalo Bills picking late in each round–aside from the 6th, where we pick just about everywhere–McBeane are going to need to find value, and do so specifically at a number of key positions: WR, DT, DE, and S. The type of DT’s we’re going to need tend to be lower-draft value 1T’s, free agency is loaded with inexpensive safeties, and this isn’t the strongest draft for DE’s. That leaves a confluence of talent, depth, and need at the wide receiver position. Naturally, I wanted to do my own breakdown of some of the lesser-known wideouts in the 2024 draft.


Everyone knows the top talents: Harrison Jr., Nabers, Odunze… We don’t need a primer on the potentials at pick 28: AD Mitchell, Brian Thomas Jr., Xavier Worthy, Xavier Leggette, and Troy Franklin. These are the “Big Names”, and I didn’t want to just cover them; I wanted to dig a little deeper than the Capital-N “Narrative” tells you… I wanted to  find some hidden gems, while also considering what we really need out of a WR 3-4: Production. 


  1. Here’s a wild theory; a “Hot Take,” if you will: If a wide receiver catches a lot of passes, they might be good at catching passes. They probably also don’t have a lot of drops… With that in mind, below is a chart, taken from the top 30 WR from the 2023 class (who are coming out for the 2024 draft), ranked based on completions:


2. Here's a corollary to the aforementioned wild theory: If said wide receiver

catches a lot of passes against top competition, that wide receiver might be worth

considering in the draft.


So what I did–rather than focusing more on the typical WR metrics: 40 times, TD’s, or yards–was I built a metric based on the defenses these top wide receivers faced. Specifically, I looked at the following:


  1. I took that chart of the top 30 wide receivers, in terms of completions (i.e. REC’s).

  2. I then referenced the top 10 passing defenses for completion percentage (i.e. The top 10 defenses in terms of lowest completion percentage allowed).

  3. And I also referenced the top 10 passing defenses for passing yards per game (i.e. The top 10 defenses in terms of passing yards allowed per game).


What was my logic behind breaking down the numbers this specific way?:


  1. Big-time programs, like OSU, Alabama, Texas, Michigan, Clemson, etc… often pad their season with a few games against significantly inferior competition. This affords their WR opportunities to “stack stats” against inferior competition.

  2. If a WR is able to continue making catches against the best-of-the-best, in terms of the best defenses for YPG Allowed and Completion % Allowed, that means the WR in question isn’t stacking easy numbers; they are beating the best competition at preventing receptions.

  3. In most cases, the WR’s going to the NFL draft are their respective team’s best WR, which means that:

  4. In most cases, while these WR’s were likely to be the focal-point of the top-tier pass defenses, they were still able to produce solid numbers.

  5. Finally, if a team’s top WR is able to consistently produce against the very top echelon of pass defenses, when that WR is the focal point of said passing defense, there is a heightened likelihood that said WR will translate to the NFL,

  6. Because: A. They produce against the best-of-the-best pass defenses (which correlates to NFL pass defenses), AND B. They produce when they are the target of the best-of-the-best pass defense (Think Belichick’s mantra of taking away your offense’s greatest strength) .


So, to contextualize this, I’ll start with a breakdown of the top 10 defenses in terms of lowest completion percentage allowed (left table), and the top 10 defenses in terms of passing yards allowed per game (right table). I have those tables, below:



I wanted to share a couple of notes on my methodology for the color splits on the chart, above:


-In both Comp % Allowed and Pass YPG Allowed, I found natural breakpoints between teams.


-In both charts, four clear tiers appeared. These tiers are shown in blue (top tier), green (2nd tier), yellow (3rd tier), and orange (4th tier).


-Based on the disparities among the groups in each passing defensive category, I assigned point values per tier. The “Bonus” point values for those tiers are listed, below:



When a Top 30 WR (In terms of completions) played against a team that landed in one of those tiers in 2023, I added the “Bonus Points” to their rating scale. I’ve compiled the chart of bonus points, below:



So, let’s look at some conclusions, based off of these notes:


-The top two “Bonus Point” scorers were Malachi Corley (+19 Bonus Points / 25th most receptions in 2023), followed closely by Isaiah Williams (+17 Bonus Points / 23rd most receptions in 2023).


-Based on running literally hundreds of mock drafts, using 5-6 different mock draft sites, Corley tends to go in round 2-3, while Isaiah Williams will go between rounds 4 and 6.


Conclusions:


If the Buffalo Bills are looking for wide receivers in the 2024 NFL Draft, beyond the 1st round, who check the following boxes:


  1. High production, in terms of catches.

  2. High catch production against the best-of-the-best pass defenses.

  3. Value, in terms of their typical “draft stock”.


Then they should consider Malachai Corley (W. Kentucky) in the 2nd - 3rd Rounds, and/or Isaiah Williams in the 4th - 6th Rounds.


CAVEAT: I wrote this piece prior to the Bills signing Curtis Samuel. Given that Samuel and Corely–and to a lesser degree, Isaiah Williams–are such similar wideouts, I feel as though Corely would be somewhat redundant, in a post-Samuel-signing Bills world. 


I do still feel as though Corley is going to be a force in this league, and some team is going to get a lot of value out of him. I also still feel like Isaiah Williams will be a late-round pick that brings surprising value to whatever team picks him up. I’m still hoping for Williams in the 4th - 6th (preferably).






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