• Josh McDonough

NCAA Yards Per Route Run as a Predictive Metric


Jeff Woo/DRC


Yards per Route Run (YPRR) is one of the hottest stats in the analytics community today. The concept is simple. It shows how many receiving yards a player accumulates for one route they run, on average. In the NFL it’s often used to predict future fantasy success. In 2019, Stefon Diggs and A.J. Brown were ranked 2nd and 3rd in YPRR among WR’s with at least 60 targets. Unfortunately, Diggs and Brown finished as the WR24 and WR21, respectively. In 2020, we saw their success as Diggs finished as the WR3 and AJB was the WR12 over 14 games. Both remained in the top 6 for YPRR in 2020. NFL YPRR speaks to the talent of the receiver, and if their situation improves, their fantasy production will greatly improve.


While NFL YPRR can be a helpful metric, we’re focused on College YPRR today. We need to know if college YPRR is a predictive metric for NFL Success. I’ve looked into the numbers, and I’m going to break them down for you.


The Best of the Best


When I look at a metric, the first thing I like to do is look at the players that have glowed in the area. Here are the top 20 single seasons (excluding 2021 rookies) among Wide Receivers with 200+ routes run, and drafted in the first 3 rounds of the NFL Draft.



As you can see, 8 of the 17 players named scored 10+ PPR PPG in their first 3 seasons (or NFL To Date). The list of 17 players is solid. Tyler Lockett and Tyler Boyd may not have reached that threshold, but they feel like hits in dynasty formats at this point.


The Rest


The best way to look at YPRR is in two buckets. All players drafted in the NFL Draft, then zooming in on players drafted in rounds 1-3. The graph below contains players drafted into the NFL.


As expected, the chart shows a positive relationship between YPRR and NFL Fantasy Points. For the stat-heads out there, I’ve included the R^2 to show the strength of the relationship. For general statistic standards, this is NOT a strong relationship. For Fantasy Football standards, it’s pretty good. It’s slightly weaker than Breakout Age (30%) among players drafted in rounds 1-3. At this relationship, it can be included in a calculation, but it needs to be considered among many other factors.


When we zoom in, things get a little less reliable. The graph below contains only players drafted in the first 3 rounds of the NFL Draft.


There’s still a positive relationship, but the correlation coefficient is…well not good. The numbers are all over the place. The trendline doesn’t strongly represent the data it’s reflecting. It’s just not a reliable metric for players drafted in the first 3 rounds.


Takeaways


NFL Yards per Route Run will remain one of my favorite metrics for NFL predictiveness…but college Yards per Route Run will not be something I strongly consider among my top college prospects. There just isn’t a strong tie between college YPRR and early NFL Production. That said, there is a positive takeaway for me. Yards per Route Run will be a metric I consider when looking at those “Flier” candidates. Guys that aren’t drafted in the first 3 rounds of the NFL Draft, but have intriguing film.


For 2021 Draft context, DeVonta Smith would find himself at the top of all players in the table I’ve compiled above. His 4.39 YPRR in 2020 was record-setting. That said, we all know Smith is going to be drafted in the first round. Jaylen Waddle (4.38) and Elijah Moore (3.85) are also near the top of the list. Yards per Route Run will not be moving Smith or Waddle up my board. It could be a tie-breaker in favor of Moore among other prospects. On the flip side, one guy I’ll be keeping an eye on is Jaelon Darden out of North Texas. Because he’s a small school guy, he is likely to fall in the NFL Draft. His 4.31 YPRR in 2020 makes him one of my favorite prospects as a fantasy flier.


YPRR Stats per PFF. PPG Stats per @pahowdy's database. Thanks to Peter for his incredible collection of Data.