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Tracking Translation: Do the 2022 Rookie Wide Receivers Measure Up?

Making the most of your drafted rookies draft demands monitoring their progress in the NFL game. Will their athleticism and skills translate? Join @FFB_Vern to see how we can track the translation.

Tracking Translation is back, and we have a bunch of intriguing prospects to examine in 2022. Many of us will be keeping our ears extremely close to the ground to monitor training camp developments. While we won’t be reading into training camp developments, we can identify some translation indicators for 2022 rookies. Today we will look at a few rookies, their potential upside, and some aspects of their game to track in the regular season.

Wide Receivers

Given the heavy amount of receivers drafted in the first two rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft, there are many players to watch. To start this series, we will start with three to examine: Drake London, Chris Olave, and Treylon Burks. These receivers all project to start early on their respective teams, and each has a level of promise and concern. What do they offer? Will it translate? What will be the indicators of translation?

Drake London

Drake London was the first receiver off the board to join Kyle Pitts and the skeleton crew of the Atlanta Falcons offense. The Calvin Ridley situation made London’s selection a virtual necessity, and he offers an excellent size profile. Marcus Mariota or Desmond Ridder could impact London’s ceiling since one hasn’t been a prolific passer and the other hasn’t seen an NFL snap yet.

What He Brings to the Table

Woo Lee’s draft profile on Drake London identifies his biggest assets as contested catch ability and body control. Additionally, he displayed extreme dominance on tape over defensive backs that could not match his size. Of course, these are great qualities to have, but these are challenging to translate to the NFL. Size mismatches will become less frequent and affect the consistency of winning with body control.

NerdScore for London is very promising, effectively affirming those qualities above. He was top 5 in the 2022 class in release, hands, contested catches, catch radius, and physicality. Assuming all of these qualities translate as graded, Atlanta should have a great receiver for their offense.

Translation Concerns

As alluded to, NFL competition is bigger, faster, and stronger! This elevated level of competition can quickly erode advantages rookies had against college competition. Joe Beldner identified other concerns in Receiver Roulette: Gotta Catch’ Em All regarding London’s route running, separation, and speed.

What We Need to See

London could succeed despite apparent route running, separation, and speed issues if his release is on point. A good release can create all the space necessary in spite of high-end quickness/explosiveness. We need to see some nuance in his release. Indicators from Reception Perception are positive, with success vs. Man being top-5 in this class. London’s success vs. Press is just outside of that group.

Contested catch receivers always give me the shivers when it is their prominent capability in college. This is why the release mentioned above is so important. We will have to look at his contested catch success versus more physical Press corners. Good cornerbacks should be able to match London’s feet and stay in his hip pocket if London’s release isn’t good. This will provide them opportunities to affect his balance and concentration, which are core dependencies for contested catch success.

Chris Olave

Chris Olave was the third receiver drafted right after college teammate Garret Wilson. The Saints just might have drafted the perfect player for Jameis Winston. Olave joins a crew that now has a returning Michael Thomas and newly acquired Jarvis Landry. What a room to be in as a rookie NFL receiver! Olave is a polished route runner himself, but he could stand to learn a ton from his teammates.

What He Brings to the Table

Olave could be the best in this class if his success vs. Press and Man coverages translate. Per Reception Perception, he is top of the class in both categories. NerdScore has him in the top 5 for release, route running, speed, burst, and quickness. These scores complement the Reception Perception data extremely well, and I feel the skills will translate. The draft profile on Olave by Josh Adkins agrees with these strengths but includes ball tracking and homerun ability using speed and angles. My evaluation essentially resulted in a head nod to the work of the mentioned analysts.

Translation Concerns

Chris Olave is fast, no doubt, but a scouting perspective elicits a common question when looking at this translation process. Can they play as fast in the NFL as they have in college? Will the mind and the body maintain their high-speed connection? Mental processing and play speed is the most critical quality across all positions. Also, this is the most common reason why stellar college athletes do not translate to the NFL. With that said, there are no glaring concerns given his mental processing, but we can’t read the minds of rookies.

What We Need to See

For Olave to become the receiver I imagine, we will want to look for his quickness to hold up. Will his quickness maintain its advantages in the release and route breaks? Can his mental processing speed keep up to allow him to play fast in a more complex offense? Will he and Winston be able to develop deep ball chemistry?

Treylon Burks

The Titans made a bold decision in the draft to trade away A.J. Brown to get to Treylon Burks as the sixth receiver off the board. Based on his body type and play style, it appears that the Titans thought they could accomplish multiple objectives. They replaced Brown, avoided paying him new receiver money and acquired an additional third-round pick. Did they do the right thing? Only time will tell, but as an Eagles fan, I’m happy they made that decision.

What He Brings to the Table

As mentioned above, Burks is built a lot like A.J. Brown, and like Brown, he wins with physicality. Analytically, Burks is the top receiver per Davis Zach’s Z-Score, and NerdScore has Burks top 5 in contested catch, catch radius, physicality, ball tracking, and YAC. He is also top 5 in the class, behind London but ahead of Olave. These are qualities mentioned in Matt Cooper’s draft profile on Burks. The YAC is a prominent piece of his game, offering homerun upside on screens. Strength and physicality could not be overlooked on tape, and he bullied a lot of defensive backs who tested him physically.

Similar to the other receiver prospects, I examined what Reception Perception had to say about him versus Man and Press looks. His presence at or near the bottom of the class in success vs. Man and Press doesn’t inspire confidence. This could be an exposure issue as he was near the bottom in snaps for these situations as well. With that said, he was at the top of the class in success rate on “Go” routes.

Translation Concerns

If the Titans plan to use him similarly to A.J. Brown, it will be necessary for him to succeed in his release. If not, his advantages will be contained to those mentioned earlier—another prospect that succeeded through YAC in college similarly to Burks: newly minted Chicago Bear N’Keal Harry. Harry’s poor release was the root cause of his lack of success from the tape I watched. Burks must develop in this area to maximize his skill set.

Route tree diversity is a concern of many out there. He ran mostly out-breaking routes and a high amount of screens or flat routes. Burks’ low amount of slant routes is concerning, especially given his build. Hopefully, Tennesee will be smarter with his usage in this area. Reception Perception shows an above-average success rate on slant, corner, and nine routes which makes his usage at Arkansas more confounding. Route tree diversity isn’t much of a concern in year one, given his success on the slant and the “Go.” If he can sell vertical and the slant equally well, then we should wait for the Sluggo.

What We Need to See

First and foremost, we need to see that he implements some nuance of release successfully vs. Press and Man. If he cannot, the offense may have to scheme around him to utilize his YAC as a reliable asset. When he is pressed, we want to see him be a bully and use his physicality to win. Similar to London, we need his balance to hold up when dealing with more physical defensive backs in contested catch situations.

What to Do with Training Camp Buzz

Tracking Translation will return after the conclusion of Week 3 of the 2022 NFL season. In the meantime, you will likely be drowning in beat writer takes, podcast speculation based on those takes, and your imagination of what is happening. Given that, there are a few things that I keep in mind when processing all that input:

  • Nothing is Gospel; treat everything as a grain of salt
  • Practice periods may be set up specifically for the offense or defense to succeed
  • Players may be encouraged to see what they can get away with technique-wise
  • Videos on social media are a small piece of the body of evidence
  • Consider the competition and the coverage (what DB, was it Press/Man)
  • There is no pass rush

Real talk: I have made plenty of mistakes in my dynasty career by making too much out of all the input from training camp season. With that said, I have made up for those mistakes by heeding the above list.

Videos Are Nice: Proceed with Caution

Those videos are something I want to harp on a bit more. If you are going to look at a video and consider it more so than other information, please do the following:

  • As much as possible, look for the technique evidence in the clip
  • Once you have done the above enough, answer two questions:
    • How did he win?
    • Is this actually repeatable within his ability and control?

The evidence, once evaluated, should only help you confirm or refute your previous evaluations. They should not completely change your mind about a player. The only thing that should change your mind is a growing body of evidence from sources you trust, including plays against good competition in situations that you know have no structured advantage to the player.

Happy training camp to all! Tracking Translation will revisit these receivers in week three, and there will be another Tracking Translation primer coming soon for rookie running backs. Please ensure you are using all the tools available to the NerdHerd like the DynastyGM, the Prospect Film Room, and the NerdScore! The Discord access is a must-have as well! Until next time, follow me on Twitter @FFB_Vern for my latest insights.

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