Not many Washington Redskins fans were familiar with Ryan Grant when he was selected by the team in last year's NFL draft, but it didn't take too long for that to change. Grant went on to have a successful preseason that saw him finish tied for fourth in both receptions and receiving touchdowns and twelfth in receiving yards in the entire NFL.
His performance in those exhibition games essentially caused the Ryan Grant hype train to go off the rails. You need only to look here, here and here to see the proof, as the readers of this very site voted Grant the most hyped new Redskin for three weeks in a row during the preseason.
Grant's preseason success did not carry over into the regular season, however, as he couldn't even muster half of his preseason yardage total in four times as many regular season games. He recorded only two receptions for 11 yards after Week 2 and was overtaken by a 35-year-old Santana Moss for the number four receiver job in Week 13.
Despite all of that, the Grant hype train seems to be inexplicably chugging along (albeit at a reduced pace to be fair), as fans consistently ask about him and both fans and writers alike express optimism that he'll one day emerge as a starting outside or slot receiver for the team.
My assumption, which was based on what I saw while researching for my weekly Snap Judgments posts, was that Grant would not have a productive NFL career; but I don't like to make judgements based purely on assumptions and I wanted to find out if all the hype was warranted, so I took an in-depth look at his athleticism, college career and rookie season in an attempt to determine what the Redskins should expect from Ryan Grant's career in the NFL.
I could've used a Tarantinoesque out-of-sequence narrative structure by starting at the end with Grant's rookie year production and going backwards from there, but I thought better of it and decided that we should look at things chronologically. And you can't find a more base point to start from than a player's athleticism. Below you will see Grant's measurables, combine numbers and several player comps provided by Mockdraftable. Please note that we will be using Grant's pro day 40-yard dash time of 4.53 seconds for much of the rest of this article.
Field Gulls' Zach Whitman has back-calculated NIKE's SPARQ formula, which gives us a numerical representation of overall athleticism for a player. If you're skeptical about the value of this formula, then all you need to know is that Pete Carroll and the two-time defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks use it as part of their player evaluation process. Also, don't forget that Scot McCloughan himself worked hand in hand with Carroll and John Schneider to assemble the bulk of Seattle's current roster.
Zach was kind enough to provide me with some SPARQ comps for Ryan Grant. It should, however, be noted that because Grant is such an average athlete that Zach decided to narrow down the list by removing undrafted free agents. That means that this list of comps is likely slightly more attractive than what we would've seen otherwise.
Actually, it would be more accurate to say that Grant is a below average athlete, because based on the data that Zach has compiled dating back to 1999 you can see that Grant has a negative z-score. A z-score of zero would indicate that the player was an exactly average relative to his position. To further that point, we can look at the 2015 receiver rankings on Zach's site, 3 Sigma Athlete, and see that a wide receiver with Ryan Grant's SPARQ of 113.2 falls approximately between the 42nd and 43rd percentile of receivers relative to their athleticism. The 50th percentile, like a z-score of 0.0, represents a player who rates as a league-average NFL athlete at his position.
So what does this all mean though? Does it mean Grant that will be a below average receiver? Let's take a look at the NFL careers of his player comps to give us an idea. These are the most similarly athletic receivers on record, so the historic comparisons should give us a good idea of how we can expect Grant to fare.
|Player Comp||Source||Draft Year||NFL Years||Career Rec||Career Yards||Career TD||Career AV|
|Jordan White||Mock & SPARQ||2012||1||1||13||0||0|
|Stedman Bailey *||Mockdraftable||2013||2||47||661||1||6|
|Marcus Harris *||Player Profiler||2011||3||0||0||0||1|
|Harry Douglas *||SPARQ||2008||6||258||3,131||8||31|
|Quinton Patton *||SPARQ||2013||2||6||78||0||1|
There are a few decent players in this group, but the overall career averages produced by this cohort do not inspire a lot of confidence in the idea that Grant will develop into a starting-caliber NFL wideout. Racking up 67 receptions, 800 yards and three touchdowns in a season is one thing, but finishing your career with those numbers is an entirely different story.
College production has been shown to be quite a good predictor of NFL success (or a lack thereof), so this is the next logical piece of information for us to review. First, take a look at Ryan Grant's career numbers at Tulane via Sports Reference.
Grant started off slowly, but he did eventually put up some decent numbers in his redshirt junior and senior seasons. The problem here is with the level of competition. The first part of that is that Grant was older than his competition in those last two years (age 22 and 23-year-old seasons). If you are a 22-year-old receiver then you should be absolutely dominating a field of competition that is comprised largely of 20-year-olds.
According to the work done by Rotoviz's Jon Moore, age does matter and history has shown us that there is a seasonal threshold of production or an "age-expectation" for each age (18 through 24) that successful NFL receivers typically either roughly meet or exceed during most of their years in college. Grant only produced at an adequate level relative to his age in his redshirt senior year. He turned 23 at the end of that season.
The other issue is that Grant accumulated those numbers against inferior competition in Conference USA. Although, of course Tulane didn't face only Conference USA opponents for the entire five years that Grant was enrolled there. So some of that production must have come against Power 5 and/or top 25 ranked schools, right? Actually, not really. Check out the box scores from all of Grant's games against Power 5 programs and schools that were ranked in the top 25 at the time of the game. His Senior Bowl numbers are also included at the bottom of the list.
|(9) Brigham Young||2009||5||14||0|
|(9) Louisiana State||2009||0||0||0|
|2014 Senior Bowl||2014||0||0||0|
Ouch! Grant came away with just one reception or fewer in five of his nine games (56%) against top-level competition. He also did not score a single touchdown in any of these games and only topped 100-yards receiving in one of them (against Rutgers). His career average of three receptions for 30 yards in these contests is disturbingly low and likely is below replacement level. Grant's only saving grace here is that the sample size is not very large and that more than half of these games took place during his freshman and sophomore-year campaigns.
Football Outsiders' NFL Career Projection
Every year the venerable football analytics site Football Outsiders uses their Playmaker projection system to predict how the incoming crop of rookie receivers will fare in the NFL. A receiver's career college receiving statistics, stats from their "peak" college season, whether or not they declared before exhausting their college eligibility, vertical jump results from their pre-draft workouts and their projected draft round are used to create a Playmaker projection and rating. Here is Football Outsider's explanation of what the projection and rating represent.
Playmaker Projection projects the wide receiver prospect's average NFL regular season receiving yards per season through the first five years of the player's career.
Playmaker Rating, on the other hand, uses the statistical trends identified by Playmaker only. Playmaker Rating is expressed in terms of the percentage of historical prospects that the player beats in terms of these statistical trends. So, for example, a Playmaker Rating of 75 percent would mean that the prospect is stronger than 75 percent of the prospects in Playmaker's database based on the trends identified by Playmaker.
In last year's edition of the Playmaker series, Ryan Grant was given a projection of 153.1 yards per season and a rating of 38.80%. That means that the system projects Grant to record a total of just 765.5 receiving yards through his first five years in the league and that he was a weaker prospect than 61.2% of the receivers on record. His projection and rating ranked 23rd and 29th respectively in last year's class. They would rank 24th and 27th if compared to the 2015 wide receiver class.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Come back tomorrow for Part 2, where we'll look at Ryan Grant's preseason and see how his rookie year stacks up against the rookie seasons of every starting receiver in the league.
*Statistics and other player data courtesy of 3 Sigma Athlete, College Football Stats, Football Outsiders, Mockdraftable, Pro Football Focus, Pro Football Reference, Rotoviz, Sports Reference and Zach Whitman*