2014 Top Wide Receivers: Sammy Watkins, Brandin Cooks, and Jordan Matthews

Posted on November 6, 2013


Wide receivers are one of my favorite positions to chart and analyze. Sure, a lot is contingent on scheme and QB play, but with enough data you can really start to get a feel for a player. Luckily, I’ve got a lot of data on the wide receivers – probably more than I can use or synthesize. With that, we’re going to take a look at some of the top wide receivers likely to declare for 2014: Sammy Watkins, Brandin Cooks, and Jordan Matthews.

These numbers are all hand charted by myself. I’ve got every one of Sammy Watkins’ games here, skipped UMass and UAB for Matthews, and missing SD State and USC for Cooks. However, each of these is still a better sample size than I had for any WR last year – so I’m pretty happy with the data. Let’s get to it.

Where did they catch the ball?


  • We have to start with the obvious, Matthews and Watkins’ high percentage of screens. Matthews and Watkins caught 42% and 45.5% of their total receptions behind the line of scrimmage. For reference, the average WR I charted last year caught 19% of their passes behind the LOS.
  • Cooks’ distribution of receptions is distributed much better. He still catches an above-average amount of balls behind the LOS, but has the same amount of receptions in the 1-5, 6-10 and 20+ yard zones.
  • 17.4% of Cooks’ receptions were deeper than 20 yards; that compares favorably to Terrance Williams and DeAndre Hopkins last year. Meanwhile only 6% of Jordan Matthews’ receptions were deeper than 20 yards, however he caught 22% of his passes in the intermediate zone.

What did they do after they caught it?

We have a couple of interesting cases here. Most quality college wide receivers average 5.5-7 yards after the catch, depending on their offense. Tavon Austin was an extreme outlier with 8+ yards this past year. We have even larger outliers here.


  • Sammy Watkins, hailed as an athletic freak, averages 9.71 yards after the catch. Jordan Matthews averages slightly less at 8.5. While Cooks’ is far more average at 5.5 yards. Let’s talk about screens.
  • I like to use screens as an indicator for athletic ability. If you can make a guy miss in the open field and gain yardage, you’re doing a good job. For reference the top tiers of last year’s receivers averaged 5.77 yards after the catch.
    • Watkins: 9.27 yards after the catch on screens
    • Matthews: 13.2 yards on screens
    • Cooks: 13.44 yards on screens
  • This is an odd situation, because Watkins and Matthews only catch the ball on average 5 yards from the LOS. How much of that comes via athletic ability and how much from scheme. Here’s an indicator, Watkins averages 10.1 yards after the catch on non-screens, which Matthews only averages 5.1 yards.
  • Let’s not forget about Cooks, who looks far more like a normal receiver than the others. He has caught the ball 10.36 yards down the field, comparing to his teammate Markus Wheaton last year.

What did they do to catch the ball?

A new feature this year, I recorded the last break the receivers made on their route before they caught the ball. They could run a slant and go, all that would be recorded is the go route. However, it should give you a good feel for their diversity of routes (outside of screens). Slants are included with post/corner, it was just too bulky to put in the chart.


  • Outside of screens, Watkins probably has the most diversity in his routes. 33% of his routes have been breaking back to the QB, but he still runs a nice amount of square routes and post/corners.
  • Cooks’ receptions are well distributed except for a lack of routes directly down the field. We’ve seen that he’s catch plenty of deep balls, they just all tend to be on post and corner routes.
    • Cooks’ overall YAC is lower, however it may be attributed to the high number of routes breaking back to the QB. These routes typically average ~2.5 yards after the catch for all WRs. Thus, when his receptions consist of 40% of these routes, it’s going to naturally limit YAC.
  • Matthews may be the most predictable wide receiver in all of college football. Approximately 75% of his routes are screens or post/corners/slants. Vanderbilt loves to line up Matthews in the slot and hit soft spots in the opponents’ zone on those post and corner routes.

Miscellaneous stats

  • We have to talk about drops. Typically a wide receiver should drop no higher than 7% of his passes. That’s about average for college wide receivers. Anything higher is a red flag to me.
    • Cooks: 4.17%
    • Watkins: 5.71%
    • Matthews: 10.71%
  • A large percentage of Cooks’ receptions come in the red zone. Nearly 25% of his receptions and 12.5% of his yardage has come near the goal line. This will also naturally limit Cooks’ YAC. Matthews and Watkins each average about 15% of receptions in the RZ and 6% of yardage.
  • Nearly 64% of Cooks’ total yardage has come on first down. Watkins’ receptions are extremely well distributed with 33% on each of the first three downs.
  • None of their QBs have missed the wide receivers at a prolific rate. Unlike Patterson, Hunter, and Wheaton who were recipients of poor QB play when targeted last year. However, Matthews has received nearly 42% of all of Vanderbilt’s passes. The highest I’ve seen among WRs.

This wide receiver group is very enigmatic. I’ve never seen two wide receivers with such high YAC or receptions as screens. It tends to make the evaluation a little wonky from a statistical standpoint. Do you attribute that high YAC to system or player? Is it different for Matthews and Watkins who have similar statistics? I tend to think it is.  That’s for people to decide individually though.

I have so much data. I have data on QB ball placement that I haven’t even had time to get around to yet. Those will likely appear in a later post when I’ve got more wide receivers to compare it to. I also have data on defender distance from the wide receiver at the time of catch. Again, it will likely appear later. For now, this is what I have. As always, follow on Twitter  for extra info/ updates on more posts. Thanks for reading y’all.

Posted in: Wide Receivers