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Digits and Tidbits – Film vs. Analytics Series – Part I – McLaurin F1

McLaurin F1 is lighting the NFL up as a rookie but is his success sustainable? @MikeMeUpP and @FFB_Vern take you through the film & analytics in the #DigitsandTidbits series

By Vernon Meighan & Michael Liu

What’s up NerdHerd! Ya boi is back and partnering up with one of the best in the biz to bring you a new season-long series of #DigitsandTidbits. In this series, we’ll be combining both film and analytics and give you our verdict on emerging talents in the league. Too often I see the #FilmvsAnalytics fight raging on Twitter and it was always a bit puzzling to me. To ignore either is just foolish. It would be like walking around all day refusing open one of your eyes. That won’t be happening here I’ll be handling the #digits and Vern will provide the #tidbits by providing his takeaway based on his film review. I love grinding some film as much as the next guy but Vern’s going to be able to provide you with the insights that a casual fan of the game like me just can’t. Before we jump into things, make sure you follow us @MikeMeUpP and @FFB_Vern to get all the information and tips we provide on the daily. Let’s get it!

In this first installment, we’ll be getting into one of the hottest young WRs in the game today, Terry McLaurin. Scary Terry or McLaurin F1 (much better nickname imo courtesy of @JohnProctorDFS) has been on an absolute tear in the NFL in his first year as a pro. He had a strong drum beating for him all throughout the offseason from coaches and beat writers so it was no surprise when he was finally named the starter in a depleted WR corps in Washington. But even those that were high on him probably didn’t see him blowing up this fast. So how in the world did he get here? Is it sustainable? Should we buy-in on the supercar that is McLaurin F1? Let’s get into the numbers…

Admittedly, I wasn’t very high on McLaurin as a prospect because from an analytics point of view as he checked very few boxes in terms of his prospect profile compared to someone like Harry. Let’s take a look at his profile and break down some of the key components

Source: Player Profiler

College Production (negative): His college production profile certainly doesn’t scream NFL superstar. Despite playing for 4 years, the only highlight in his collegiate career is getting over double digit TDs in his final year as a senior. In 4 years at OSU, McLaurin failed to exceed 800 yards in any season and only exceeded 500 yards receiving in his final season.

Source: Sports-Reference.com

Breakout Age and Dominator ❌: As a result of his production profile above, McLaurin technically doesn’t have a breakout age as he failed to achieve greater than 20% market share in any season while playing for the Buckeyes. He also has a 17th percentile dominator which is nothing to get excited about. One thing I will point out that this trend is more common for OSU receivers as they’re flush with talent. McLaurin’s teammate Parris Campbell has some of the same issues with his profile.

Age Adjusted Market Share : This is another metric that has proven to have significant correlation with WR success in the NFL. Thanks to @theDude_Z for the visualization and @pahowdy for the underlying college data. The data plots market share of teams total receiving yards against age. The line represents the mean of college players since 2012. I plotted some of the best WRs to enter the NFL in recent years versus McLaurin and as you can see, he is well below the mean which would suggest he’s likely to regress to the mean.

Draft Capital ❌: Typically, you want to see WRs get drafted in the 1st or 2nd round given more investment from the team results in greater likelihood of getting playing time. McLaurin was drafted in the top half of the 3rd round which isn’t bad but also not ideal. 

Athleticism ✅: This is the category that McLaurin has in spades. He has decent size at 6 feet and 208 lbs and runs a 4.35 #speedkills. He is blazing fast and it shows up on film and in his college YPR of 20 which is 93rd percentile. His 95th percentile SPARQ score basically tells you all you need to know, the dude is an absolute freak athlete. Problem is, this alone typically isn’t enough. You’d like to see him check off most if not all of the above factors as well.

Apparently, no one told F1 any of that though, because since joining the NFL, he has been nothing short of spectacular. Below are his finishes in PPR scoring formats:

  • Week 1 (WR13): 7 targets, 5 receptions, 125 yards, 1TD, 17.9 aDOT
  • Week 2(WR20): 9 targets, 5 receptions, 62 yards, 1TD, 6.9 aDOT
  • Week 3 (WR17): 8 targets, 6 receptions, 75 yards, 1TD, 8.8 aDOT

Per MNF, he’s the first WR to have 5 receptions and a TD in his first 3 starts. He’s also finished as a WR2 every single week despite going up against two tough defenses in Dallas and Chicago and is the current WR10 on the season. This all sounds fine and dandy but are these performances repeatable? We all know volume is king and it’s all about chasing opportunity cause you don’t get points tomorrow for yesterday’s production. So let’s dig into McLaurin’s usage so far.

Through 3 weeks, McLaurin checks the box on every utilization, opportunity and efficiency metric that matters.

  1. Snaps – ✅ – The dude rarely comes off the field with a 91.5% snap share through 3 weeks.
  2. Targets – ✅ – Leads the team with 24 targets (top 24 in the NFL) and a 20.3% market share.
  3. Air Yards – ✅ – This is perhaps one of the most important factors and stickiest indicator of future fantasy production. The longer the ball travels, the higher the quality of target. It’s why you should pursue guys like Hill and Evans (unless you’re a Godwin truther). McLaurin again smashes this key category with over 376.8 air yards or 47% of team’s air yards (top 3 in NFL) of the Redskins total air yards. His Average Targeted Air Yards of 15.7 also ranks in the top 10 in the NFL amongst qualifying WRs with 10+ targets per NFL Next Gen stats. It’s clear his speed and deep threat abilities have transferred over from college to the pros.
  4. Red Zone Usage – ✅ – McLaurin is a leader in red zone usage as well as within 10 yards. Through 3 weeks, McLaurin ranks top 6 in red zone targets with 5, tied with Mike Evans. Of those, he caught 4 for 80% catch rate and converted 2 into TDs. This bodes extremely well for his TD upside as not only is he a deep threat specialist, he is also getting the most valuable targets and showing success converting them.
  5. Yards per Route Run (YPRR) – ✅ – Per PFF, McLaurin’s YPRR of 2.49 after 2 weeks ranks top 12 among qualifying WRs with 10+ targets and right behind another favorite of mine, Amari Cooper. Per @ScottBarrettDFB, this is one of the most important efficiency metrics for WRs that correlates with elite fantasy production. For reference, Julio Jones is the reigning king of this metric.

Despite missing on my prospect evaluation of him, it’s never too late to pivot when new information presents itself. And in this case, the new information is that McLaurin has been ballin’ out of the control in the NFL. Whenever I watch him, he jumps off the screen making him a current buy candidate for me in redraft formats. I am still undecided in terms of dynasty outlook. Does he possess the traits (route running, ability to beat press coverage, etc.) required for success in the NFL? For that, we need to hit the #tidbits. However, as I’m no film expert, this is where I’ll hand it off to Vern, who will take you all through the tale of the tape.

Tidbits on the Tape

Terry McLaurin… I like the “McLaurin F1” nickname after one of the fastest production cars of its time. McLaurin is fast so perhaps it is fitting. A 40 time like his always grabs my attention, but as a friend told me a year ago while discussing DJ Chark, “It doesn’t matter how fast they are if they aren’t in the right place at the right time.” As dynasty players mature they become less caught up on the raw speed of a player while increasing focus on things that matter for receivers.

He has been putting together quite the highlight reel in the first 3 weeks with speed being a major contributing factor. The tape shows other factors of his game like quickness, route running, and hands. Let’s walk through the tape as the scout’s do; snap to finish.

Release

When discussing release we want to be sure that we are covering some specific scenarios. We must get an idea of a player’s capabilities against man and zone, but more specifically against off, bail, press, and jam techniques. McLaurin leverages his speed well versus off coverage to close the cushion quickly. Against solid corners, he can get depth quickly enough in his stem to eat up cushion which will have them turning upfield worried they may get dusted. Against bail techniques, he intelligently works the blind spot in the stem which sets him up for the eventual break at the top of his routes. His quickness comes in very handy to consistently release freely against solid corners. Given his speed and quickness, if he continues to get free releases I wouldn’t be surprised if he worked up to 50% of the Redskins’ air yards by season’s end.

via GIPHY

One area of concern is how he deals with the jam. Handsy, physical CBs will disrupt him at the line of scrimmage. Defeating the jam is critical in order to get open and to the right spot at the right time, and there are a few ways to accomplish this. His speed can discourage CBs from attempting the jam because McLaurin does have good quickness to cause them to whiff on attempted jams. When press corners do make contact, McLaurin struggles to combat them with his hand moves, and his struggles seem to affect his fluidity at the line of scrimmage. 

via GIPHY

Separation Quickness

It’s going to take more coaches’ film to really understand what he can do in this area, but there is no question about his speed in creating separation. The speed utilized in his release against bail and off coverage gives him an advantage over average cover CBs to manipulate their hips and get them turned around. We can see this even against good cover CBs like Sidney Jones where McLaurin sets him up to turn his hips to the outside just to cross his face with quickness and explosion to be wide open. While the ball was overthrown, his separation is undeniable. This is an example of what will happen to CBs left on an island that can’t match McLaurin’s feet. 

via GIPHY

Terry will consistently utilize the exaggerated brake step to sell ‘burst’ to a vertical route. This is effective against CBs threatened by his speed. To be more effective against better corners he is going to have to improve consistency in a more acute torso angle at the breakpoint. This will improve his separation on curls, hitches, and comebacks. With football being a game of consistent small wins, improvement in this area of his game could elevate him to a true WR1 for the Redskins. 

McLaurin’s challenges through contact in press coverage bleed into his physical toughness and ability to fight to stay on his line. While the sample is small, Byron Jones was able to consistently impact his ability to separate when he made contact at the line of scrimmage. This allowed Jones to be able to crowd McLaurin to the boundary, limiting the margin of error for Keenum to get him the ball. Additionally, on those curls and comebacks, Jones’ physicality allowed him to match McLaurin’s feet. Terry simply lacks the play-strength to fight through physical CBs in the stem. If I’m a defensive coordinator in possession of a physical corner with good speed, I will deploy him in press coverage on McLaurin a good chunk of the time.

Hands

“Good strong hands to catch contested passes with very good ability to track deep passes,” is something that could be said about his small sample size thus far. We saw ball tracking ability in the “release” section above, but on this play, we see our boy matched up against Byron Jones at the goal line. This shows where patience and a plan meet his quickness and what happens when you don’t get your hands on him. His strong hands are on display; Jones’ hand inside is unable to affect this TD catch. 

via GIPHY

McLaurin puts this ability on tape consistently as we were able to witness again on MNF. Combined with the Red Zone usage Mike highlighted above, we can begin to gain confidence in long term production. Currently Scary Terry should be feared inside the 10-yard line; he is among the top 5 in targets this season with four. 

via GIPHY

Keenum is not the most accurate passer, but he must be thankful to have a receiver like McLaurin who can adjust above and behind his frame to catch the ball. Receivers with a sizable catch radius are impactful to a passing offense allowing them to be “thrown open” by a larger margin than others. In addition, he flashed some fearlessness over the middle showing excellent competitive toughness in a game where it seemed there was no hope.

He did flash the ability to make a back shoulder catch where he was required to gather quickly, turn and elevate at the top of his route. We get to see some of his route running skills and how dangerous he can be with a free release even against DBs who can match his feet like Darby.

via GIPHY

Need More Tape

There is potential here, but more tape is required. The challenge is fantasy owners want to know if the price they have to pay today is worth it. What feels like a potential overpay now could pan out to be a steal. We have already covered some of the areas of concern above, but here are the things we should continue to look for:

  • Development 
    • Release moves to defeat the jam
    • Techniques/play strength to stay on stem (Seen in MNF GIF)
    • Improved posture in the brake step on curls, hitches, and comebacks
    • An increase in outbreaking routes run (with success)
  • More reps to better evaluate
    • Toughness over the middle of the field (MNF GIF shows it)
    • Competitive toughness 
    • Body control
    • Full catch radius
Moving Forward

Dominator rating is a nice data point along with college production, but once a player puts it together on the field like we are seeing with McLaurin, all that information becomes a footnote. What cannot be denied is his usage, target share, and air yards. If the digits haven’t convinced you already, the tidbits in the tape speak for themselves. 

A few aspects of his game are still unclear and others need improvement for legit tier 1-2 WR status, but the analytics and the film are both screaming “BUY!! BUY!!” like we are in the stock room floor in “Trading Places”. I’m doing this in dynasty and redraft. While there are some risks in buying early, there is plenty of reward in boldness. This offense is not very good now and he is still performing at this level?!?!? The savvy move is buying while people are still concerned about Haskins eventually taking over. Don’t be late to this party!

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