A comparison between North Carolina’s Dwight Jones and former Central Florida wide receiver Brandon Marshall illustrates why you have to remember what you’re comparing. A lot of the comparisons I see will compare a college player with an NFL player. But that is not an apples to apples comparison. It would be an apples to apples comparison if made between the college player and the NFL player when they were playing in college. There’s a difference.
I will make a wager with you that if you go through about the top 5-7 players at each position in the draft draft, you could, without much looking, find a comparison for all of them with a successful pro player. Most of the time the comparison isn’t just with a successful pro, it’s with a pro bowl player. I just read one comparison that likened Mohamed Sanu to Hakeem Nicks. It’s possible that they will have similar pro careers, but they did not have similar college careers.
But that is how player comparisons go. Often the comparison is a best case scenario. But to see whether the best case is realistic, let’s look at the 2007 wide receiver class that included Calvin Johnson. Three of the top seven wide receivers have less than 10 career touchdowns. This is a class that has played five seasons now.
|2||Calvin Johnson||DET||366||5872||49||Georgia Tech|
|9||Ted Ginn Jr.||MIA||159||2047||6||Ohio St.|
|32||Anthony Gonzalez||IND||99||1307||7||Ohio St.|
|44||Sidney Rice||MIN||178||2613||20||South Carolina|
|73||Jacoby Jones||HOU||127||1741||11||Lane College|
|74||Yamon Figurs||BAL||5||103||1||Kansas St.|
|75||Laurent Robinson||ATL||143||1858||15||Illinois St.|
|76||Jason Hill||SFO||76||1028||8||Washington St.|
|78||James Jones||GNB||187||2704||20||San Jose St.|
|79||Mike Sims-Walker||JAX||134||1798||14||Central Florida|
|80||Paul Williams||TEN||1||7||0||Fresno St.|
|99||Johnnie Lee Higgins||OAK||57||779||4||Texas-El Paso|
If you go back and look at the 2006 class of wide receivers, only two of the top eight wide receivers drafted (Santonio Holmes and Greg Jennings) have more than 10 career touchdowns. The 2008 draft class has now played four seasons and only two out of the top 13 wide receivers have more than 10 career touchdowns.
The reason this is important is because NFL draft comparisons often suffer from survivor bias. Only successful players remain in the minds of the comparers. Comparisons are rarely made with players who might have been more similar, but didn’t pan out.
Dwight Jones and Brandon Marshall are similar size, speed, and also had similar stats in their last year of college. They may or may not have similar pro careers, as there are a lot of variables in play there, but going into their pro careers they look like reasonable approximations of each other. It’s worth noting that people aren’t high on Dwight Jones, but people weren’t high on Brandon Marshall either. Marshall was a fourth round pick.
|Player||Dwight Jones||Brandon Marshall|
|School||North Carolina||Central Florida|
|% of Team TDs||45%||46%|
|% of Team Yds||38%||39%|