SO FAR, SO
The Washington Redskins selected wide receiver Josh Doctson with the 22nd pick of the 2016 NFL Draft. At the time, Doctson was viewed as something of a luxury pick for the 2016 season, as the team already had two established wideouts on the roster in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon.
The real reason he was brought to Washington was that the team had no plans of re-signing both Jackson and Garcon, who would both be free agents in their 30s, in the following offseason.
Doctson only played 31 snaps over the course of two games in his rookie campaign before being shut down and placed on IR because of a lingering Achilles injury. His injury-plagued first year in the pros was disappointing to be sure, but it wasn’t the end of the world. After all, everyone knew the pick was primarily made with an eye towards the future and not just 2016. Unfortunately, the future has not gone as planned.
D-Jax and Garcon both went on to post 1,000-yard seasons for the Skins before bolting to Tampa Bay and San Francisco in free agency. This marked the first time in NFL history that a pair of receivers topped 1,000 receiving yards in the same year and both signed with a new team the following offseason.
The pressure would then fall squarely on Josh Doctson’s shoulders to lead Washington’s wideout corps and produce at a high level. As anyone who follows this team knows, Doctson has failed miserably at that task.
A CHRONICLE OF FAILURES
If you know me, then you know I have to back that last statement up with some hard facts. So, whether you want them or not, here are 10 sets of statistics which illustrate the utter disappointment that has been Josh Doctson’s NFL career:
1. In his three-year career, Doctson has amassed just 81 receptions and 1,100 yards. Since he entered the league in 2016, 22 players (19 wide receivers) have topped both numbers in a single season a combined 33 times.
2. His single-season career highs in receptions and yards are 44 and 532, respectively. Again, since 2016, 122 players (84 wide receivers) have bested those marks in a season a combined 219 times. Fourteen of those 122 were rookies (10 wide receivers).
3. Josh Doctson finished both 2017 and 2018 ranked either first or second among the Redskins’ skill position players in snaps, routes run and targets, yet he’s never led the team in either receptions or receiving yards. The Skins’ WR corps ranked dead last in both receptions (145) and receiving yards (1,694) in 2018.
Washington had the lowest-scoring receiving corps for fantasy in 2018 by more than a point per game. They were 450 points from the No. 1. pic.twitter.com/C4ZhTOiPhP— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) February 22, 2019
4. He has never finished in the top-40 at the receiver position in targets, receptions and first downs.
5. The former first rounder has never finished in the top 60 among qualifying wideouts in the following statistics: receiving yards, yards after catch (YAC), yards per target, yards per route run, catch percentage, DVOA, DYAR, PFF grade, receiver air conversion ratio (RACR) and average separation.
6. Only eight of his career receptions have gained 30 or more yards. That’s not particularly impressive, especially when you consider 10 of his grabs as a pro have gone for four yards or less.
7. The number of times in his career Doctson has dropped a pass (6) or had one of his targets intercepted (7) is almost equal to both the number of touchdowns and deep passes he’s caught (8 each).
8. He isn’t exactly what you would call a versatile player either. The TCU product has never played a single snap on special teams or defense for the Redskins and 83% of his snaps have been taken as a boundary receiver. Between college and the NFL (including preseason) he has a recorded a total of negative seven combined rushing and return yards.
9. Only 260 or 23.6% of his receiving yards have come after the catch.
10. Josh Doctson has never caught more than six passes or gained more than 84 yards in a game. He has also never scored more than once in a single contest. Doctson has failed to gain 40 yards in two-thirds of his NFL games (22 of 33). He’s totaled fewer than 4 receptions, 40 yards and hasn’t scored on 14 occasions (42%).
I could go on, but I think you get the picture. At least up until this point, the Redskins using a first-round pick on Doctson has turned out to be an unmitigated disaster; that’s not really up for debate. By almost any definition, he’s been a bust.
This is not what I want to focus on here today, though. I want to know if there is any shred of hope for Josh Doctson to avoid the dreaded bust label when his football career ultimately ends. Have any players in a similar situation set a precedent he could possibly emulate on his way to a career turnaround or would he have to defy seemingly insurmountable odds by becoming one of the first wideouts to ever accomplish such a feat?
DEFINING FIRST-ROUND HITS AND BUSTS
To figure this out we need to first establish what constitutes a successful career for a wide receiver selected in the first round of the draft.
Our focus will be limited to first rounders because they are held to a higher standard than other players. For example, Josh Doctson’s production over the course of his first three years wouldn’t look so bad if he was selected with a day-three pick; in fact, you’d have to be more than happy with it, considering how rarely late rounders make an impact of any kind. We are only going to be looking at wide receivers, because, well, Doctson is a receiver.
I also narrowed our scope to players who were drafted as wide receivers between 1978 and 2014. That range was chosen because I didn’t want to punish players who played before the advent of the 16-game schedule in 1978 and who haven’t had the chance to play in the league for at least five years. Doing so would’ve made it harder for them to meet the thresholds I set to be considered a “hit.”
After all of this, we’re left with a list of 126 players who meet our criteria. That was the easy part; the hard part is figuring out how to determine how many of them were hits and how many of them were busts.
Now, there is no magical metric out there which determines whether or not a first-round wide receiver lived up to expectations or not, so I was left to my own devices when it came to figuring this out. I’m sure not all of you will agree with my methods, but just remember that this is far from an exact science.
Overall, I tried to be lenient with this, because I wanted to have more opportunities to find players who started slow like Josh Doctson, but who ultimately went on to have productive careers befitting of a round-one receiver.
Below you can see the 10 thresholds I set to be considered a “hit” and my rationale for each choice. If our group of wideouts were able to meet any one of these marks, then they passed the test.
- 384 Career Receptions- This was the average number of career receptions for the 126 players in the sample.
- 5,466 Career Receiving Yards- This was the average number of career receiving yards for the 126 players in the sample.
- 35 Career Receiving Touchdowns- This was the average number of career receiving touchdowns for the 126 players in the sample.
- 8,079 Adjusted Catch Yards- This was the average number of career adjusted catch yards for the 126 players in the sample. Adjusted catch yards (ACY) are receiving yards plus a 20-yard bonus for touchdowns and a 5-yard bonus for receptions.
- One First-Team All-Pro Season- Receivers who made the AP1 team as special teamers were not included.
- One Pro Bowl Season- Receivers who made the Pro Bowl as special teamers were not included.
- Win One Major Award- If a receiver won either the MVP, Offensive Player of the Year, Offensive Rookie of the Year or Comeback Player of the Year, then I felt that was enough to get them in.
- Multiple 1,000-Yard Receiving Seasons- I thought it was a bit easier to top 1,000 yards than it was to win a big award or earn an All-Pro or Pro Bowl nod, so I bumped the requirement to at least two seasons.
- Multiple Top-10 Receiving Yards Seasons- The same rationale used for #8 applies here.
- Multiple Top-10 Receptions Seasons- The same rationale used for #8 applies here.
Now that we’ve laid out what it takes to be considered a hit, let’s take a look at who made the grade and who didn’t.
WHO MADE THE CUT?
Before the final hit and bust lists are unveiled I want to quickly explain how two players in particular made the hit list: Amari Cooper and Sammy Watkins.
Cooper was actually drafted in 2015, which is just outside our range, but I included him anyway, because 1) he did just miss the time-frame cutoff, 2) he has already had three 1,000-yard Pro Bowl seasons and 3) he is the only receiver drafted between 2015 and 2018 who has met any of the criteria I laid out.
Sammy Watkins, on the other hand, has had five years and hasn’t met any of those 10 requirements, but I chose to let him squeak in because he almost certainly will. For starters, Watkins already has one 1,000-yard season to his credit and he is still only 25-years-old. Even if he plays just four more years and only posts the averages from his three worst seasons in those campaigns, he would still easily surpass the yardage and touchdown thresholds.
With that two-player sneak peek out of the way, we can finally get to your feature presentation. The final hit list is below. The number of categories each player made it in on is also displayed.
The list is comprised of 64 players, which accounts for just over 50% of our 127-player sample (remember I added Cooper to our original group of 126). Overall, I don’t think there are many inclusions on here that warrant an extensive debate, but I’m here for it if you want to discuss it.
I only gave Watkins a hit count of one. He is joined by seven players who barely made it on the list by meeting just one of ten possible requirements.
Something is better than nothing, though. Let’s take a look at the guys who went 0-for-10.
You might have noticed that three of those busts (Desmond Howard, Michael Westbrook and Rod Gardner) were drafted by the Redskins. Washington only hit once with Art Monk. Different regimes picked most of those players, but it’s at least worth noting that the team doesn’t have a good track record in this regard.
Former Redskin Ricky Sanders, along with Rob Moore, both would’ve made the cut if we included the eight receivers who were picked in the supplemental draft between 1978 and 2014.
Adding those players to the mix also would’ve lowered a few of the threshold averages to a point where Ted Ginn would’ve avoided the bust label. There are a couple of notable players on here, but Ginn stands out to me the most. However, at the end of the day, I’m not worried about him missing the cut, because he had 12 years and 171 games to avoid doing so.
We’ve successfully separated the wheat from the chaff, so we can take a deep dive into our list of studs to see if any of them looked like duds at beginning of their time in the pros. If players from the past were able to pull a career 180, then perhaps Josh Doctson can do the same in the not too distant future.
SLOW COOKED STUDS
As was previously noted, Josh Doctson has only caught 81 balls for 1,100 yards through the first three years of his career. He has scored eight touchdowns, as well.
Five of our 64 first-round hits failed to surpass one or all of those figures during their first three seasons in the league. They are: Jessie Hester (56 receptions), Michael Irvin (78 receptions), Ike Hilliard (5 touchdowns), Tim Brown (62 receptions, 998 yards and 8 touchdowns) and Haywood Jeffires (56 receptions, 757 yards and 3 touchdowns).
This is a decent start, but I wanted to have a few more players to work with. You may also recall that Doctson’s single season career highs for receptions and receiving yards are 44 catches and 532 yards.
A search of the hit list produced five players who were not able to record 45 or more receptions in any of their first three seasons. Hester, Irvin and Brown popped up again, but they were joined by Willie Gault and Irving Fryar, as well.
Not a single one of the 64 studs gained fewer than 550 receiving yards in each of their first three NFL campaigns. Yikes, that is not a good sign for Josh Doctson!
I proceeded to bump up the yardage total to 800 in order to get to a double-digit number of comps. This added Johnnie Morton, Sean Dawkins and Donte Stallworth, all three of whom had caught 55 or more balls for 700-plus yards in their third years.
This leaves us with a list of 10 players to compare Doctson to. Below you can see their total numbers for their first three seasons. The table is sorted by adjusted catch yards and includes the age of each player on the day of the final game of their third year. Doctson’s rankings in the group are at the bottom of the table.
As you can see, Doctson only put up better numbers than two of the 10 receivers we’re comparing him to here. On top of that, he was about a year older than the next oldest one of them.
As I examined last year, age is a very important, yet oft overlooked indicator of future NFL success. Let’s take a closer look at how Josh Doctson’s current career receiving yardage and adjusted catch yardage numbers compare to the production of our pared-down list of first rounders at two different exact ages: 26 years and 94 days old (Doctson’s age today) and 24 years and 94 days old (Doctson’s age two years ago).
Not only had all ten players bested Doctson’s current career marks by the time they were the same age as he is today, they also more than doubled his totals on average. What’s worse is that 60% of the group actually had better numbers when they were a full two years younger than Doctson; only Brown, Irvin, Jeffires and Morton were behind him in this regard.
Any remaining J-Doc fanboys out there who are reading this sure must be hurting right now. Don’t worry though, guys. I’ll give this one more go just for you. How about from an individual game level? Perhaps, these other so-called hits were just compilers during their first three years who never really had especially big games.
Let’s see how many of them were able to eclipse Doctson’s single-game career highs in receiving yards (84), receptions (6) and touchdowns (1) early on in their careers and how often they were able to do so. The number of 100-yard games was included for each receiver, as well.
These players failed to hit the mark in only ll of 40 possible instances, with nearly half of those cases occurring in the reception category. Haywood Jeffires was the only one who didn’t surpass Josh Doctson in more than one of those cases.
We’ll wrap things up with a quick look at how long it took our group of 10 wideouts to exceed Doctson’s best single-game showing in each category.
The table will show the career season number, career game number and age in which each of these players first did so. If the player took longer than 3 years or 33 games to accomplish any of these feats, then the text for that cell is in red; the same goes if they were older than Doctson is as of today.
Once again, Jeffires was the only one who failed to pass the test in more than a single category, and even he was younger than Doctson is today (26.3) the first time he hauled in seven passes, gained 85 yards or 100 yards in a game.
Every other wide receiver in question, was at least two years younger than Doctson is now when they first gained over 85 and 100 yards. They were an average of two years younger than he’ll be on the day of the 2019 season opener when they first caught seven passes or multiple TDs in a contest.
I hate to say it, but all signs are pointing in one direction as it pertains to Josh Doctson’s career outlook.
Not one of the receivers we looked at truly set a precedent that Josh Doctson can follow, because none of them were nearly as unproductive early on in their careers as he has been.
Sure, Tim Brown had worse overall receiving numbers over the course of his first three years in the league. However, as a 22-year-old rookie, Brown topped Doctson’s career high in receiving yards by almost 200 (725) and set an NFL record for all-purpose yards by a rookie which has stood for over 30 years (2,317). He also had four games with over 85 receiving yards that season (Doctson’s career high is 84 yards).
I could continue, but let’s leave at it this: Doctson has no business being compared to the great Tim Brown.
Haywood Jeffires was the only “hit” who really came close in terms of early-career disappointment, but even he doesn’t measure up to Doctson in that regard.
In his third season, Jeffires put up 47 receptions and 619 yards, both of which are better numbers than Doctson’s career highs. Jeffires followed that campaign up by posting a 74-1,048-8 line the following year; he was over two months older than Doctson is right now when that season ended. The year after, he led the league with 100 receptions.
The facts are clear; there has not been a single first-round receiver in the last 40-plus years who started their pro career as poorly as Doctson has and then went on to be considered a success according to the very lax set of standards we’ve established here.
Doctson has been a major disappointment up until this point, and history tells us that’s how he will ultimately be remembered when it’s all said and done.
Sorry to break it to anyone still holding out hope, but it’s all but official: Josh Doctson is a bust.
*All statistics are courtesy of 247 Sports, ESPN, MaxPreps, NBC Sports, NFL.com, NFL Gamebooks, Player Profiler, Pro Football Focus, Pro Football Reference, Redskins.com, Rivals, Sports Illustrated, Sports Reference, TCU Athletics and Three Sigma Athlete*
Will Josh Doctson go down as a first-round bust?
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It’s still too early to tell
How many receiving yards will Josh Doctson have when he retires?
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Fewer than 2,000
Between 2,000 and 2,999
Between 3,000 and 3,999
Between 4,000 and 4,999
Between 5,000 and 5,999
6,000 or more