In hindsight, it’s easy to say that Austin Collie should have been drafted higher than the fourth round out of BYU. The rookie hauled in seven catches for 123 yards and a touchdown to spark the Indianapolis Colts to victory in the AFC Championship Game.
A new analysis by a BYU student shows that non-BCS players make the jump to the big league just as well as BCS players – sometimes even better.
With the NFL draft upon us, the numbers suggest that the BCS label blinds NFL executives from drafting the best players available.
At wide receiver, non-BCS athletes have better NFL careers than a BCS athlete with similar college stats and similar performances at the NFL Scouting Combine.
“They look the same on paper, but the non-BCS receiver actually performs better in the end,” said Lyndon Plothow, who conducted the research for his honors thesis at BYU. “They stay in the NFL longer and each season they’re producing more.”
Specifically, wideouts from non-BCS schools are 15 percent more likely to play in the NFL more than three years than their BCS equivalents. The non-BCS receivers also average 200 more yards per season at the professional level.
It’s surprising that in an age of data-driven personnel decisions in professional sports – see “Moneyball” – non-BCS receivers get drafted 59 spots later than a similar player from a BCS school. BYU’s Austin Collie wasn’t the only future NFL star selected late:
- Brandon Marshall, a fourth rounder out of Central Florida, hauled in more than 1,000 receiving yards in each of the last three seasons
- Marques Colston, a seventh rounder out of Hofstra, was the leading receiver on the Saints’ league championship team
- Miles Austin, undrafted out of Monmouth, caught 11 TDs last season for the Dallas Cowboys
Some may distrust stats of non-BCS prospects since BCS teams play against top defenses with more regularity. Plothow notes that BCS receivers average 14 fewer yards per game, but says that difference is not nearly enough to explain such a wide gap between draft selections.
To conduct the research, Plothow and economics instructor Matt Butler built a database containing offensive statistics from both the NFL and NCAA from the past 10 years. They also included data from the NFL Scouting Combine held each year in preparation for the draft.
As for his own post-college career, Plothow graduates from BYU this month as a double-major in economics and linguistics. Before attending law school, he’s headed to Cambridge to pursue a master’s degree in Old English, trading the likes of Jimmy Clausen for Geoffrey Chaucer.
It’s not just at wide receiver that non-BCS players fly under the draft’s radar. Plothow’s analysis found that non-BCS running backs perform just as well in the NFL as BCS ‘backs of similar strength, speed, and college stats, but the non-BCS ball carriers get drafted 34 spots later.
Case in point: Michael Turner getting picked 154th out of Northern Illinois. Turner rushed for 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns for the Atlanta Falcons in 2008. Reigning rushing champ Chris Johnson was selected 24th out of East Carolina despite running the 40 yard dash in 4.24 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine.
“Controlling for strength and college career, two players coming out of BCS and non-BCS schools may look equal, but the BCS player is consistently selected much higher in the NFL draft,” Plothow said.
So why are NFL teams missing out on so much talent? It appears that scouts and executives rely on BCS coaches’ evaluation of players in the recruiting process when they should trust the data, Plothow says.
The quarterback position is one area where college label carries less weight. A non-BCS quarterback is drafted just seven spots behind his clone from a BCS league.
This specific research was limited to offensive skill positions simply because there are more stats available to help predict NFL performance. A preliminary version of the research is available here.