Comparing current NFL draft prospects to those of years past is standard procedure in draft evaluation, though most comparisons are built on the memory recall and subjective opinion of the particular evaluator.
This will be the first in a series of articles comparing the 2021 draft prospects to prior years and picking out the most similar comps with a clearly delineated and quantifiable method.
PFF data scientist Eric Eager has done tremendous work building college-to-pro projections, which are built off the robust college data we’ve collected since 2014 and have been applied to exercises like building an “Analytics” Mock. In this analysis, I will use some of our advanced stats for comparison but primarily rely on traditional stats to go back further to compare the 2021 prospects to draft classes going back to 2006.
Without the NFL Scouting Combine this season, the important measurables like weight and 40-yard dash will be reported through the various pro days that will be taking place over the next few weeks.
The comps below were derived from a two-step process. First, I converted all the most statistically relevant stats and measurables to percentiles based on the thousands of prospects who have entered the NFL since 2006 at each position. Then, I filtered the total universe of past prospects by those who had draft positions, weight and 40 times within a 10th percentile in either direction of Ole Miss WR Elijah Moore. For undrafted players, I assigned a numerical draft position of 300.
The rest of the matching features were transformed by principal component analysis (PCA). I found the closest statistically comparable players by the euclidean distance between the players' principle components, listed in the top 10 below.
The metrics for PCA are career market shares for receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, best-season market shares for receiving yards and touchdowns, yards per route run, and yards per reception.
For Moore's draft position, I’m using an estimate based on the mock data collected at GrindingTheMocks.com. For the weight and 40 time, I’m using the numbers from his pro day, with a 0.03-second penalty added to the 40 time to reflect the uncertainty of pro-day timed measurements.
Most comparable players
Moore ran a 4.35-second 40-yard dash (93rd percentile) at his pro day while weighing in at 178 pounds. His performances in the other drills were also impressive, clocking in at 6.66 seconds for the three-cone drill (93rd) and above the 50th percentile for the broad and vertical jumps.
Moore is a somewhat difficult player to compare to historical prospects. When you filter prospects for similar height, weight and speed to Moore, the list primarily comprises deep threats, especially restricting draft position to the first three rounds.
Moore’s closest comps are Tyler Lockett and Tavon Austin, a contrasting set. The former was a third-round pick and a complete receiver in college, whereas the latter was a top-10 pick and fit the profile of an “offensive weapon.”
Surprisingly, the two fared similarly in terms of fantasy production their first three seasons, though Lockett has taken his game to the next level as his career has progressed.