When watching and analyzing prospects entering the NFL, it’s not uncommon to see subjective comparisons made to current players in the league. Whether it’s a specific trait or the package of a prospect, we’re all guilty of doing it. 

“The route running of Antonio Brown”. 

“The body control of DeAndre Hopkins”. 

“The explosiveness of DeSean Jackson” for an undersized receiver. 

“He’s Wes Welker” for every Caucasian slot receiver. 

Unfortunately, projecting players transitioning to the league for real football and our fantasy game is a sobering process. The reason our comparisons go to high-level players is because they stick out at the pantheon of rare achievement. Often they are comparisons being made to established players and not entirely when those players were prospects themselves. Check your favorite draft guru’s comparisons. It’s not often you see a wideout compared to Charles Rogers. Or Troy Williamson. Or David Terrell and so on down the line even though subjectively those players were also once viewed to share elite traits and comparisons to players of their time. 

Before I steamroll into another direction, let me say that there’s nothing wrong with subjective player comps. I do it, too. But the angle we want to take here is to generate objective comparisons for the top prospects on the board. The goal here isn’t to directly say “this is what the player will become” but provide further clarity on the objective archetype of player and where similar prospects were valued by the league objectively based on declare status, age, size, final season, and career production adjusted for age, and physical profile adjusted for size.

Kicking things off, we’re starting with the top-5 wide receivers that I have in pre-draft rookie rankings at the position and generating their top-5 objective comparisons from the previous 10 drafts. 

One last piece of housekeeping. The comps are generated through Z-scores from the model used in that piece. The production and physical scores are listed in where those players rank in terms of percentile in each. 

CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma

PlayerSchoolYearRY AgeBO AgeHtWtPhysicalFY Prod.CarProd.Draft
CeeDee LambOklahoma202021.819.47319836.50%82.50%87.90%TBD
Keenan AllenCalifornia201321.318.47420622.10%93.80%88.80%76
Kenny StillsOklahoma201321.419.47319454.90%84.70%78.90%144
Robert WoodsUSC201321.418.47320118.00%60.10%96.30%41
Nelson AgholorUSC201522.620.37219859.90%87.90%69.50%20
Damian WilliamsUSC201022.320.37319745.90%68.70%57.10%77

*RY Age= Age in Rookie NFL Season
**BO Age= First season in which WR accounted for 20% Dominator Rating

None of the top wideouts in this class expected to be first-round locks are what would be categorized as “alpha” type X options for an offense. We’ve got tweener-builds at the top that have pedestrian physical profiles entering the league. Neither are as detrimental to future success as the verbiage suggests, however, because what we really care about most is age-related production and declare status for wideouts before uncovering the physical layout and whether or not a guy can be Julio Jones. 

Lamb’s top comp is a favorable one in Keenan Allen, who has reeled off six seasons already as a WR3 or better in PPR points per game, five as a WR2 or better, and three as a WR1 or better. Robert Woods also shows up here, who has been a WR2 in points per game in each of the past three seasons. 

Nelson Agholor is the only first-round comp here, but everyone else was valued highly as a top-80 draft pick with the exception of Kenny Stills. Damian Williams gives us a set of USC wideout comps, but is at the lower end of the hits, not having as strong as a production profile. 

Jerry Jeudy, Alabama

PlayerSchoolYearRY AgeBO AgeHtWtPhysicalFY Prod.CarProd.Draft
Jerry JeudyAlabama202021.819.47319322.20%75.60%86.10%TBD
Stefon DiggsMaryland201522.118.67219527.20%50.80%80.50%146
Isaiah FordVirginia Tech201721.918.67319423.70%59.60%87.00%237
Robert WoodsUSC201321.418.47320118.00%60.10%96.30%41
Rashard HigginsColorado State201622.218.9731963.80%72.30%95.40%172
Will FullerNotre Dame201622.720.47218651.70%89.50%89.10%21

Pulling up Jeudy’s top comps, we get a lot of disparity in terms of draft capital with three of the top hits taken with draft selections 146 or later. Jeudy has a slightly weaker physical profile than Lamb, so we have a lot of highly productive players here that measured out on the lower end from a physical stance. The difference here in favor of Jeudy over some of the other guys such as a Rashard Higgins or Isaiah Ford is that while his measured athleticism didn’t match his production, Jeudy’s production came in the SEC and not the ACC or Mountain West.

We have plenty of evidence that shows Jeudy is more than capable on the athletic side of things while players such as Higgins and Ford may have gotten more of a pass on the collegiate level through strength of competition as their subpar athletic profiles came to light at higher levels. 

His top hit is Stefon Diggs, who was a great find for Vikings at his draft cost. Diggs didn’t have as strong as a final collegiate season as Jeudy did, but is a near overlap everywhere from career output per game, share of team production, and physical profile. 

The top three wideouts in this class all have similar builds and production profiles, so we’re going to have some overlap in comparisons. Robert Woods makes this list as well after popping up previously for Lamb. One thing this also allows us to do is take a look back at prospects entering the draft and it’s easy to forget how strong of a prospect a player like Woods was. He was a second-round, early-declare prospect with a 252-2930-32 line receiving over 38 games at USC while also tacking on 142 rushing yards and 1,364 kick return yards. It took a while for his career to get going and he may not be an ultimately sexy fantasy player, but Woods had a strong profile entering the league that was only dinged by a softer athletic profile.

As with Lamb, we only get one fellow first-rounder here and it comes from Will Fuller. Fuller’s per game (4.5-78.5-0.9) and per reception totals (17.4 Y/R) are a near overlap to Jeudy’s per game (4.1-70.3-0.7) and per catch (17.2 Y/R) over collegiate careers. 

Justin Jefferson, LSU

PlayerSchoolYearRY AgeBO AgeHtWtPhysicalFY Prod.CarProd.Draft
Justin JeffersonLSU202021.619.67320261.30%91.40%84.90%TBD
Justin BlackmonOklahoma State201222.620.77320758.50%97.90%98.70%5
Corey ColemanBaylor201622.520.27119462.70%96.60%91.20%15
Nelson AgholorUSC201522.620.37219859.90%87.90%69.50%20
Chris GodwinPenn State201721.819.57320988.20%86.70%79.40%84
Kenny StillsOklahoma201321.419.47319454.90%84.70%78.90%144

Jefferson had such gaudy final season numbers playing in the most collegiate offense that he gets a bump in terms of comparable prospects. He also surprised some by being a stronger measurable athlete than both Lamb and Jeudy at the combine in Indianapolis. 

Jefferson has three first-round receivers making the top-three comps. All three averaged over 100 yards receiving per game and over 2.5 yards per team target in their final seasons entering the league.  Unfortunately, these three have combined for just one WR2 or better season in points per game at the next level. We sadly only got to see Justin Blackmon appear in 20 NFL games before off-field transgressions sunk his career, but he is the top objective mark here for Jefferson.

We also get a lot of “big slot” types here, which is where Jefferson is projected to be at his best at the next level and once again overlap with previously discussed players as both Agholor and Stills find their way into the picture.

Agholor (and Coleman) are good examples of how we treat the perception of players in the NFL versus their perception as prospects since we have so much influence from hindsight. Do we count them as misses from a league-value stance or a player stance? Unfortunately, there’s a lot of variables that go into the end result of a player’s career, and many are beyond predictability. From an on paper stance, both had the appearance of productive players at the next level with above baseline athleticism. 

Henry Ruggs, Alabama

PlayerSchoolYearEarlyRY AgeBO AgeHeightWeightPhysicalFY Prod.CarProd.
Henry RuggsAlabama2020Y22n/a7118877.90%19.50%42.40%
Mecole HardmanGeorgia2019Y21.8n/a7018746.30%15.70%7.10%
Marquise GoodwinTexas2013N22.8n/a6918356.10%2.70%5.40%
Kolby ListenbeeTCU2016N22.9n/a7219773.30%14.60%12.20%
Devin SmithOhio State2015N23.820.57219661.10%35.30%37.50%
John RossWashington2017Y23.118.87018883.50%76.20%41.00%

Here we immediately see what makes Ruggs such a polarizing prospect among both NFL evaluators and in dynasty circles. 

I even had to break a rule just to get five players on the board here since Ruggs has such a unique blend of strong physical profile for an overall “undersized” wide receiver but has lacking overall production and was still valued by the league to enter the NFL early. I had to open up the field to some non-early declare prospects to get a full list, but not even one player here has yet to have a WR3 or better season in points per game. 

That leaves us with a lot of variance here in each category and the individual categories are not nearly as tight as other prospects. What makes Ruggs different than a lot of burners is that he just doesn’t have an empty physical supported by being fast. He also has a 96th percentile explosion score (vertical plus broad jump), which players such as Hardman, Smith, and Listenbee didn’t have.

But you can clearly where the NFL values measurable speed as only Listenbee was selected outside of the third round despite the overall production profiles from this group. Three of the players on the comp list didn’t even have a breakout age in college at all, as is the case with Ruggs.

The one clear exception from a production stance is John Ross, who has a spike in final season output, but actually lags behind Ruggs in career output while being a near copy of his physically.

An Alabama player has been at the front lines of discord between analysts in each of the past two seasons in Calvin Ridley and Josh Jacobs, with the player side coming out on top. It may be that program is just never going to provide the type of overall production we objectively desire since there’s so much talent and opportunity has been spread around between backs and wideouts the past two seasons.

Tee Higgins, Clemson

PlayerSchoolYearRY AgeBO AgeHtWtPhysicalFY Prod.CarProd.Draft
Tee HigginsClemson20202218.67621637.40%53.80%60.10%TBD
Rueben RandleLSU201221.319.37521036.70%62.50%31.90%63
Mike WilliamsClemson201723.219.97521866.70%55.00%62.50%7
Michael ThomasOhio State201623.821.57521279.10%52.20%33.20%47
Mohamed SanuRutgers201223207421157.80%77.20%60.80%83
Josh MaloneTennessee201721.820.57520868.00%66.60%33.00%128

Higgins was able to have a Pro Day prior to our current social climate, which allows us to get a better overall outlook. Unfortunately, he may have been better off without it. While his 4.54 40-yard dash is 59th percentile for his size, he also registered a 32nd percentile explosion score and 31st percentile agility score adjusted for size. 

That gives us a blast from the past as his lead comp in Rueben Randle, but from just a production profile, he has an almost identical overlap to the man he replaced in the Clemson offense, Mike Williams. It’s hard not to draw a comparison to the two even from a subjective stance since they profile to be used similarly at the next level as vertical and red zone mavens over wideouts that are going to win by creating consistent separation. 

The NFL values size and production and all of these players here were early declare options. The only player that made a questionable decision based on invested draft capital at the end of the day was Josh Malone, but his initial grade at the start of the process from the league may have been higher. We don’t know, but he was the only player here selected outside of the third round.