In the same vein as my previous post, which focused on Running Backs (which I will update very soon with end-of-year data!), this time, I’ve clustered the Wide Receivers headed to the 2023 NFL Draft. The aim isn’t necessarily to find a correlation between different playstyles and success in the NFL, more just an interesting exercise.

I’ve used a technique called K-means clustering to split the Wide Receivers into eight different clusters/play-styles. I used data from PFF from their college careers. The variables I used were:

  • Yards after Catch (YAC) per Reception
  • Average Depth of Target (aDOT)
  • Percentage of player targets that were contested
  • Percentage of player targets where the WR was lined up in the slot
  • Percentage of player targets which came on a screen play for the WR
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This resulted in eight different clusters with the following characteristics and a list of Wide Receivers in that Cluster from the 2018-2022 draft classes with their corresponding PPR Points Per Game for their first three years in the NFL. For those that have played less than three years, it will take their average PPR Points Per Game so far.

Cluster 1  – The Intermediates

  • Don’t stand out in any one variable; mid-range for them all

Cluster 2 – Versatile with YAC

  • Used all over the formation
  • Mid-range average depth of target
  • High levels of YAC per reception

Cluster 3 – Downfield and YAC

  • High average depth of target
  • High levels of YAC per reception

Cluster 4 – Slot & Screens for Days

  • High percentage of their targets coming in the slot, and on screens
  • Very low average depth of target with corresponding high amount of yards after the catch per reception

Cluster 5 – The Renegades of Slot

  • The highest slot target percentage

Cluster 6 – My Deep Jump Ball

  • High average depth of target
  • High amount of contested targets
  • Low percentage of slot and screen targets

Cluster 7 – Downfield, open, then fall down

  • High average depth of target
  • Low contested target rate
  • Low yards after catch per reception

Cluster 8 – Downfield, not open, then fall down

  • High average depth of target
  • High contested target rate
  • Low yards after catch per reception

Subjectively, I think the clusters do a decent job of describing each player’s play style, and I think, for the most part, these have carried over to the NFL. Cluster 2 is my favorite cluster. I think the players in that cluster are all very versatile and can be deployed in various ways to allow them to succeed in the NFL. Cluster 1 really has had a very wide range of outcomes – ranging from literal zeros all the way to the best Wide Receiver in the NFL – Justin Jefferson. It looks like you have to be a pretty special player to succeed coming from cluster 6.

And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for, the clustering of the 2023 Wide Receiver Class and their cluster’s corresponding Average PPR Points Per Game for their first three seasons in the NFL (for those drafted Rounds 1-3 only, as it’s a stretch to compare clusters across all 7 rounds).

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions for these results based on the previous year’s results. Success can really come from any cluster. However, I do love seeing my boy Zay Flowers in cluster 2.

Given this website is literally called Campus2Canton, it would be remiss of me to also not run the same model prediction on the Class of 2024.

Remember how I said earlier in the piece that I think you might have to be pretty special to succeed in Cluster 6? Well, I think Marvin Harrison Jr. is probably pretty special.

I hope you all enjoyed and if there’s a player you can’t see from 2023-2024 but would like to know their cluster, then please don’t hesitate to reach out to me on Twitter. Or tag me in the Campus2Canton discord, and I’ll be able to let you know.

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