The Spread Offense, Wide Receivers, and the NFL

Ah, the tired maxim of the spread offense’s alleged inability to get high school prospects into the NFL strikes again:

Speaking of recruiting — in this case the negative variety — check out this quote in the Palm Beach Post from Pahokee receiver De’Joshua Johnson.

“I dropped Florida and West Virginia because of the spread offense,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to play in the spread offense. I’ve seen how it affected receivers in the NFL draft.”

Johnson is reportedly leaning to Florida State and is considering Tennessee.

For his part, Pat Dooley has a decent and brief retort, though it comes off as Florida-homer rebuttal, rather than rebutting the actual claims themselves:

He might want to check his facts.

Didn’t Percy Harvin go in the first round? Chad Jackson? Meyer has had five receivers drafted from Florida during his tenure (six if you count Cornelius Ingram), the most for any school in the nation. FSU hasn’t had a first-round skill player in seven years and two receivers taken in the draft during Meyer’s tenure. Tennessee has had three during the same span.

This is a good start, but it doesn’t really hit the point at the very crux of this matter: You are what you are. Percy Harvin didn’t get drafted where he did because of the spread offense, he got drafted because he has Size X and Skill Set Y, which the NFL interprets as NFL Potential Z. Harvin has had Size X and Skill Set Y at his disposal, and would have had them regardless of where he went to college (we can debate the minor-ish point of a different strength coach at some other school helping Harvin achieve his potential to a different degree, but that’s outside of the discussion of offense – though I’d contend that some spread schemes demand a better strength coach).

The main things that an offensive scheme will affect are:

  1. Production. Depending on the type of spread, a receiver may play a larger or smaller role in the offense, affecting production. One of the the things that the NFL might look at is “Well, he has X and Y, but his production hasn’t matched that. Does he have a good excuse for this, or does he not bring it on game day?” Spread offenses are even more creative in terms of ways to get receivers the ball, in Harvin/Johnson’s specific cases.
  2. Preparation. Sure, a college QB who runs exclusively from the shotgun won’t be quite as ready to play right away in the NFL, and a receiver might run fewer or different routes, and have simpler reads of defenses playing in a spread offense. These players don’t come to the NFL ready to compete on day 1, perhaps. However, I’ll let Mike Leach take this one:

“I only need a three-hour window. I’ll have a great clinic for all the NFL coaches who are so horrible that they can’t teach a guy to take a snap under center and go backwards.”

Yeah, so Mike Leach is awesome, and an offensive scheme doesn’t have a huge effect on where a player is drafted (and oddly, this is especially true for receivers, whose responsibilities probably change the least out of anyone on the offense with a spread v. pro-style offense).

Let’s take a look at every receiver drafted in the 2009 NFL Draft. I’ll vaguely lump their college offensive schemes into “spread” and “pro-style.” This may seem a bit simplistic at first, but then, isn’t the criticism of the spread offense writ large simplistic itself?

Player Pick # School Offense
Round 1
Darrius Heyward-Bey 7 Maryland Pro
Michael Crabtree 10 Texas Tech Spread
Jeremy Maclin 19 Missouri Spread
Percy Harvin 22 Florida Spread
Hakeem NIcks 29 North Carolina Pro
Kenny Britt 30 Rutgers Pro
Round 2
Brian Robiskie 36 Ohio State Pro
Mohamed Massaquoi 50 Georgia Pro
Round 3
Derrick Williams 82 Penn State Spread
Brandon Tate 83 North Carolina Pro
Mike Wallace 84 Ole Miss Pro
Ramses Barden 85 Cal Poly 1-AA
Patrick Turner 87 USC Pro
Deon Butler 91 Penn State Spread
Juaquin Iglesias 99 Oklahoma Spread
Round 4
Mike Thomas 107 Arizona Pro
Brian Hartline 108 Ohio State Pro
Louis Murphy 124 Florida Spread
Austin Collie 127 BYU Spread
Round 5
Johnny Knox 140 Abilene Christian 1-AA
Kenny McKinley 141 South Carolina Spread
Jarrett Dillard 144 Rice Spread
Brooks Foster 160 North Carolina Pro
Round 6
Quinten Lawrence 175 McNeese State 1-AA
Brandon Gibson 194 Washington State Pro
Dominique Edison 206 Stephen F Austin 1-AA
Round 7
Demetrius Byrd 224 LSU Pro
Manuel Johnson 229 Oklahoma Spread
Sammie Straughter 233 Oregon State Pro
Jake O’Connell 237 Miami University Pro
Marko Mitchell 243 Nevada Spread
Derek Kinder 251 Pittsburgh Pro
Freddie Brown 252 Utah Spread
Tiquan Underwood 253 Rutgers Pro

Take a look at that! 13 Receivers from spread offenses and 17 from pro-style offenses were selected, with 4 from 1-AA teams, which I didn’t include because 1) I don’t know what type of offense most 1-AA schools run, and 2) If they’re taking a guy from a 1-AA school, offensive scheme is probably not on the forefront of NFL GMs’ decisions. Considering that more schools run a pro-style offense (particularly in power conferences, from which most NFL players are likely to come), that’s not bad at all. In the first round, the same number of players from each offensive type (3 apiece). When you consider that some schools that I placed in the “pro style” category also have some elements of spread offenses, such as Ohio State, LSU, and Oregon State, it’s a complete wash, at worst. And I guess that brings me back to my main point, which is not that the spread is inherently better for a wide receiver prospect’s chances of making it to the NFL, but rather than the offensive scheme on the whole is irrelevant.

So what’s the course of action? Obviously, a 17-year-old kid didn’t come up with this (bogus) assertion by himself. No, based on reputation, and the schools entering and exiting De’Joshua’s list, this almost certainly comes from one Lane Monte Kiffin. Of course, do I expect Rich Rodriguez to bore a kid to death with charts and whatnot? Probably not, but dispelling a meme, using whatever evidence is available, will certainly help.

Posted under Analysis, Coaching, Football, Recruiting
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14 Comments so far

  1. Wolv54 says...

    Two quasi-thoughts:

    1. I don’t see the validity in the statement about some spread offenses requiring a better strength coach. There are many factors in the success or failure of athletes in a spread, but I think a strength coach is the least important aspect of an effective spread; right below that chick in the khaki shorts who runs the gatorade out onto the field.

    2. Coaches of rival schools will tell a kid anything to get them to committ to their schools and bashing the spread has been fruitful so far. I think that will change as the spread was once the offense of the “have-nots”, but as more teams bring the spread into the mainstream, then the talent level will even out. No longer will it be the offense of Utah, WVU, and the Tulsa’s of the world. As for Lane Kiffin, he reminds he of one of my favorite sayings, “Bullshit can get you to the top, but it won’t keep you there”. I expect that guy to fall flat on his face and make himself and UT look the bafoons they truly are.

  2. Ann Arbor 1879 says...

    This meme is all due to negative recruiting.

    Also, the same can be said for QBs and I would like to see a similar graph done for that position. Although it may not work for 2009 (poor QB class, WOOO Lions).

  3. mfan in MD says...

    FYI, Arizona runs a straight up spread, their coordinator is from Texas-Tech, and I think Cal-State Fullerton (Barden) runs a triple-option.

  4. AC1997 says...

    Is anyone willing to carry this analysis further and do the previous two years of the NFL draft?

    I could potentially see an effect to OL and RB. I certainly see the effect with the QB. But WR and TE seem to be irrelevant to the spread/pro argument. More data from previous years would be great to have.

  5. Matt says...

    In the NFL 1 CB, maybe, is a physical one who presses. While in the NFL every corner does it. Now that does not effect spread teams alone. That is the only issue with WRs converting to the NFL. maybe in a spread offense it is easier to hide that stud WR from that physical CB (as you have more wrs on the field).

    Also i love Mike Leach, the best comment i have ever heard about the difference from going under center and shotgun.

  6. Voice of Reason says...

    Great job, I love this report.

  7. the_white_tiger says...

    Well, that’s a great analysis but it might be difficult to quantify an offense as a spread or pro offense. Most offenses take a little bit of each and some offenses are about 50-50. Arizona runs a spread, Ohio State threw in elements of spread for Pryor, Ole Miss is predominately spread, and Nevada utilizes the pistol which is nearly impossible to define as spread nor pro.

    Johnson needs to get his facts straight.

  8. brian m says...

    Actually De’Joshua Johnson his negative recruiters have a point. There is not one type of spread offense out there. The spread the West Virginia and Florida run are very different from the spreads of Texas Tech and Oklahoma. Run % vs. Pass %. I think that is what Johnson is referring to, but obviously did not articulate it. As for multiple Florida receivers going in the draft (and high as in Harvin) I think it is due to their individual talent levels more than anything else. Maybe Johnson sees himself as someone who won’t get drafted unless he has killer production at a pass heavy school because he lacks the measurables (listed at 5’9″) than freaks like Harvin.

  9. Tim says...

    White Tiger, that’s kind of the point. Saying “Team A runs a spread and will not get me to the NFL” is stupid, because no team is strictly spread or strictly pro-style, and there are various types of offenses.

    brian, uh, you’re hitting the exact point: guys don’t get drafted because they play in a given offense, they get drafted because they’re talented.

  10. the_white_tiger says...

    I just meant that in respects to the chart. I totally agree with points one and two, especially the fact that Tech’s WRs are taught almost every NFL route that they’d need by the pirate guy. While it would be hard to pinpoint the negative recruiting aspect on Kiffin, most coaches probably do this. You’re right though – I wouldn’t put it past him to perpetuate most of this.

  11. Thunder says...

    I don’t know why any wide receiver would want to go to Florida. Not a single Florida receiver has been a standout NFL receiver since the beginning of the Spurrier years.

    Also, I wish Rodriguez had kept Erik Campbell on the coaching staff. I think that was the single biggest coaching loss in the changeover.

  12. BetYourSport says...

    Why is it that NFL Scouts have not figured out every QB that comes out of a spread based offense in college really sucks for the NFL. I could compete in a spread offense in college and I’m a gimp.

  13. Thunder says...

    Yeah, Drew Brees blows.

  14. Fat Bastard says...


    I take it you mean other than Lloyd Carr?


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