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2022 NFL Draft: How important is scheme fit for wide receiver prospects?

Last week, we looked at the importance of scheme fit for offensive linemen entering the 2022 NFL Draft and found little carry-over for both usage and performance in different run schemes. Today, we extend the study to look at the scheme fit for wide receivers.

Players such as Michael Thomas (who barely lined up in the slot in college before becoming one of the NFL's most dangerous slot weapons) and Justin Jefferson (who was once labeled a slot receiver and is now one of the league's best outside receivers) give us a pretty good idea that not every receiver is what he was labeled as in the pre-draft process.

This article will look at how usage carries over from college to the pros and whether players are successful in the NFL if they go to a similar scheme to the one they ran in college.

First of all, let’s see whether there are general differences between receiving usage in the NFL and college. As far as pre-snap alignments, the differences are only marginally noticeable.

Pre-Snap alignment NFL College
Outside 40% 42%
Slot 33% 34%
Inline 11% 9%
Backfield 16% 15%

The following table shows how often each route is targeted at the NFL and college level.

Targeted route type NFL College
Go 12.0% 17.4%
Post 3.4% 4.7%
Corner 2.6% 2.6%
Hitch 15.1% 16.9%
In 5.1% 4.1%
Out 10.8% 10.5%
Deep Cross 5.0% 3.3%
Shallow Cross 6.0% 4.3%
Slant 6.8% 6.6%
Flat 5.3% 2.8%
Whip 1.4% 0.9%
Screen 5.6% 9.2%
Jet/Shovel/Ghost 1.9% 2.9%
RB screen/flat 9.6% 8.0%
RB out/circle/wheel 6.8% 1.2%
Scramble drill 2.6% 2.5%

There are more differences with route-target percentage than for pre-snap alignments. In college, there are more vertical targets, more receiver screens and more plays like shovel passes.

This is not a coincidence: Those routes are based on speed, and banking on a receiver to be faster than the defense is something that can work in college. However, it doesn’t work for most teams in the NFL because the talent pool is much more homogeneous.

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