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What to expect from Corey Davis in Year 1

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A look at the history of rookie wide receivers picked in the top 15.

MAC Championship - Western Michigan v Ohio Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

WE GOT COREY DAVIS!!!

Now what can we reasonably expect from him in his rookie season? Bovada came out with some early over/unders for the top 3 receivers taken:

Let’s take a look at the history of rookie wide receivers taken in the top 15 picks of the draft to see if we can find answers. Since 2007, there have been 16 wide receivers taken in the top 15 picks of the draft:

2016 – Corey Coleman (#15)

2015 – Amari Cooper (#4), Kevin White (#7), DeVante Parker (#14)

2014 – Sammy Watkins (#4), Mike Evans (#7), Odell Beckham Jr. (#12)

2013 – Tavon Austin (#8)

2012 – Justin Blackmon (#5), Michael Floyd (#13)

2011 – AJ Green (#4), Julio Jones (#6)

2010 – NONE

2009 – Darrius Heyward-Bey (#7), Michael Crabtree (#10)

2008 – NONE

2007 – Calvin Johnson (#2), Ted Ginn (#9)

Top 15 WR Rookie Stats.csv

Player (Year) G GS Tgt Rec Yds Y/R TD Y/G Ctch %
Player (Year) G GS Tgt Rec Yds Y/R TD Y/G Ctch %
Corey Coleman (2016) 10 10 73 33 413 12.5 3 41.3 45.2
Amari Cooper (2015) 16 15 130 72 1070 14.9 6 66.9 55.4
DeVante Parker (2015) 15 4 50 26 494 19.0 3 32.9 52.0
Sammy Watkins (2014) 16 16 128 65 982 15.1 6 61.4 50.8
Mike Evans (2014) 15 15 122 68 1051 15.5 12 70.1 55.7
Odell Beckham Jr. (2014) 12 11 130 91 1305 14.3 12 108.8 70.0
Tavon Austin (2013) 13 3 69 40 418 10.5 4 32.2 58.0
Justin Blackmon (2012) 16 14 132 64 865 13.5 5 54.1 48.5
Michael Floyd (2012) 16 3 86 45 562 12.5 2 35.1 52.3
AJ Green (2011) 15 15 115 65 1057 16.3 7 70.5 56.5
Julio Jones (2011) 13 13 95 54 959 17.8 8 73.8 56.8
Darrius Heyward-Bey (2009) 11 11 40 9 124 13.8 1 11.3 22.5
Michael Crabtree (2009) 11 11 86 48 625 13.0 2 56.8 55.8
Calvin Johnson (2007) 15 10 93 48 756 15.8 4 50.4 51.6
Ted Ginn (2007) 16 9 71 34 420 12.4 2 26.3 47.9
AVERAGE 14 11 95 51 740 14.5 5 52.8 51.9

NOTE: Kevin White was left out of this table since he missed his entire rookie year with an injury.

Before we move on, let’s stop and appreciate exactly how bad Darrius Heyward-Bey’s rookie year was. Those numbers are almost impossibly bad. Let this serve as further proof that being big and fast is not all that is required to be a good NFL receiver (looking at you, Ruston).

While these numbers land really close to that 750 yard number that Bovada has set for Davis, I don’t think a raw average really tells the whole story here. Data is good, but data with context is much better so let’s apply some context to those numbers.

There are several factors that affect the production of a wide receiver that have nothing to do with the players abilities. A few of these factors include quality of quarterback, type of offense, quality of offense, role within the wide receiver group, and quality of other targets in the offense. For a wide receiver to truly thrive, especially as a rookie, all these elements need to be aligned and, oh yeah, the receiver needs to turn out to be a really good player too.

Corey Davis has been drafted in to a team that is desperate for a #1 go-to type receiver and has a budding star at quarterback. However, the Titans offense (at least in 2016) is run heavy and features deep shots down the field which should bode well for his yards per reception numbers but maybe not so much his target and catch percentage. While Delanie Walker and Rishard Matthews will need some looks, there is no current target hog on this team that should outshine Davis if he is who Jon Robinson clearly thinks he is. For the purposes of this analysis we are going to assume that Davis is not a bust, which is a position I don’t think will be too hard to sell at MCM. So which of the players listed above found themselves in similar situations during their rookie years?

There are a few we can discard off the top. 2007 Ted Ginn had Cleo Lemon throwing to him on an AWFUL Dolphins team. Hard to learn much from that. DHB was a terrible football player and had Jamarcus Russell passing to him. No chance on either end there. Floyd didn’t start most of his rookie year and had John Skelton slinging the rock. Blackmon had Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne at QB. Tavon Austin had a similar story: Bradford/Clemens. Also, Tavon is just a completely different type of receiver. Corey Coleman (JG’s boy) had something like 37 different QBs throwing to him last year and spent a big chunk of the season banged up. Mike Evans had McCown and Glennon throwing to him with Vincent Jackson operating as the 1A to Evans’ 1B in a pass heavy attack. DeVante Parker was the Dolphins 4th wide receiver for much of the year. Calvin Johnson was even working behind Roy Williams and Shaun McDonald while catching passes from Jon Kitna. All of these scenarios are flawed enough that it is tough to derive any real value from comparing those numbers to Davis’ situation.

That leaves us with 5 pretty good comps for players that were in similar situations to Davis: Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Sammy Watkins, Odell Beckham, and Amari Cooper.

Probably the most applicable comp is actually Julio Jones. I hate to compare anyone to Julio, but 2011 Julio was not quite the unstoppable force he is today. Matt Ryan’s pre-Julio per game stats in 2010 were remarkably similar to Mariota’s pre-Corey stats last year. The 2010 Falcons relied heavily on a physical Michael Turner led rushing attack, before opening up the offense a little more in 2011 after adding Jones. The offensive coordinator for the 2010 and 2011 Falcons? Mike Mularkey. The receivers coach? Terry Robiskie. The one glaring difference between the situation Julio found himself in as a rookie is that he was playing across from an in-his-prime Roddy White who caught 100 passes for almost 1,300 yards during Julio’s rookie year. I love Rishard Matthews but I don’t expect him to have a 1,300 yard season in 2017. That likely means a few more targets for Davis compared to Julio’s rookie year, but he also won’t get the benefit of the coverage that White was able to draw away from Jones’ side of the field.

A.J. Green came in to the Bengals in 2011 as the clear cut #1 WR much like Davis is expected to be for the Titans. Cincinnati’s next best receiver that year was Jerome Simpson. Matthews is quite a bit more accomplished than Simpson was, but the role may not be too terribly different. The big difference here is that Green had rookie Andy Dalton throwing to him while Davis will get an experienced Mariota this year.

Sammy Watkins had a combo of Kyle Orton and E.J. Manuel throwing the ball, but was the clear #1 target in the offense. The Bills didn’t have the running game to complement the passing attack and obviously Orton/Manuel is nowhere near Mariota’s ability so this isn’t a great comp but its better than some of the others.

Odell Beckham came in as a clear #1 receiver during his rookie year with a competent QB in Eli Manning at the helm. The Giants threw roughly 20% more passes in 2014 than the 2016 Titans did. I am expecting the Titans to throw a little more next season, but not quite that much. New York’s offense is much different than Tennessee’s but this is a comp at least worth considering.

Amari Cooper had a 2nd year Derek Carr throwing the ball and Michael Crabtree on the opposite side of the field. Crabtree isn’t too far from what Rishard Matthews is for the Titans so this seems like a promising comp. However, the Raiders, like the Giants, threw the ball much more frequently than I think the Titans should be expected to. We can pretty easily adjust for this in the numbers though.

OK, so if we use the numbers from Jones, Green, Watkins, Beckham, and Cooper and give a 20% reduction to Beckham and Cooper to account for volume of passing opportunities, we end up with a season long stat line of 109.2 Targets, 69.4 Receptions, 979.6 Yards, 7.1 TDs. That line is almost exactly what Rishard Matthews put up last season and I think that’s a fair starting point for our expectations of what a successful season for Davis in Year 1 looks like.

What stat line do you think Davis ends up finishing with?