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Did Greg Little Give Browns Fans Reason to be Excited?

This article is a guest post by the Fantasy Douche.  You can follow the Fantasy Douche on Twitter where he is simply @FantasyDouche.  You can also find him on his website where he writes about fantasy football and real football.  Lastly, you can check out his book “Game Plan: A Radical Approach to Decision Making in the NFL” on Amazon.

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Greg Little is the kind of wide receiver that presents the age old question of whether teams should be drafting physical specimens (who might learn to play wide receiver) or whether they should instead be selecting accomplished college wide receivers.  Little was certainly a physical specimen coming out of North Carolina, but he wasn’t much of an accomplished wide receiver.

When the Browns took Little in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft, they were looking at a receiver that had many of the physical traits of Andre Johnson, but no college record that would make teams comfortable.  Little was close to 230 pounds and yet still ran extremely well at the 2011 Combine.  But Little’s best college season had been a little over 700 yards with 5 touchdowns.  Because he was a converted running back, Little wasn’t giving pro scouts much of a resume to look at.  The Browns didn’t know at the time whether they were wasting a draft pick, or getting an extreme bargain.  Either outcome is within the range of possibilities.

It’s much too early to pass any judgment on the Browns’ experiment with Little, but we can look at Little’s rookie season and compare it to other similar seasons to see if it tells us anything about what Little’s future might be.

The below table contains the 20 most similar receiver seasons to Greg Little’s 2011 campaign.  Note that I said receiver and not wide receiver.  That’s because rather than breaking comparisons off at position, I use things like height and weight to make comparisons.  The list of comparable receivers is interesting to say the least.  The list of similar players has been created in much the same way that Pandora determines which music is similar to a song that you like.  I look at things like height, age, weight and receiving stats in the same way that Pandora looks at things like percussion and major key tonality.

Greg Little (2011) Similar Seasons (All Per Game Numbers Based on Games Receiver Had > 0 Catches)

SubjectPlayer Year Tm Age Wt Ht G  Rec/G  Y/G  TD/G  YPR
Greg Little

2011

CLE

22

220

75

15

            4.1           47.3           0.13           11.6
Similar Players Year Tm Age Wt Ht G  Rec/G  Y/G  TD/G  YPR
FRANK SANDERS

1996

ARI

23

215

74

16

            4.3           50.8           0.25           11.8
SHANNON SHARPE

1992

DEN

24

228

74

13

            4.1           49.2           0.15           12.1
JOHNNY MITCHELL

1994

NYJ

23

241

75

15

            3.9           49.9           0.27           12.9
BRANDON GIBSON

2010

STL

23

204

73

14

            3.8           44.3           0.14           11.7
MIKE WILLIAMS

2011

TB

24

204

74

15

            4.3           51.4           0.20           11.9
REGGIE WILLIAMS

2006

JAX

23

225

76

15

            3.5           41.1           0.27           11.8
RONALD CURRY

2006

OAK

27

220

74

15

            4.1           48.5           0.07           11.7
DONALD HAYES

2001

CAR

26

220

76

15

            3.5           39.8           0.13           11.5
ANDRE JOHNSON

2003

HOU

22

219

75

16

            4.1           61.0           0.25           14.8
BRYANT JOHNSON

2004

ARI

23

214

74

14

            3.5           38.4           0.07           11.0
J.J. STOKES

1997

SF

25

218

76

15

            3.9           48.9           0.27           12.6
KEVIN WALTER

2009

HOU

28

221

75

14

            3.8           43.6           0.14           11.5
OWEN DANIELS

2007

HOU

25

245

75

16

            3.9           48.0           0.19           12.2
KEVIN WALTER

2007

HOU

26

221

75

15

            4.3           53.3           0.27           12.3
SYLVESTER MORRIS

2000

KC

23

206

75

15

            3.2           45.2           0.20           14.1
JORDY NELSON

2010

GB

25

215

75

15

            3.0           38.8           0.13           12.9
EARL BENNETT

2009

CHI

22

205

73

16

            3.4           44.8           0.13           13.3
RANDY MCMICHAEL

2003

MIA

24

250

75

15

            3.3           39.9           0.13           12.2
DEZ WHITE

2003

CHI

24

215

73

15

            3.3           38.9           0.20           11.9
MICHAEL CRABTREE

2009

SF

22

215

74

11

            4.4           56.8           0.18           13.0
Averages               24.0         219.8           74.6           14.7             3.7           46.4             0.2           12.4

 

Note that while individual players might differ in some way from Little, the average numbers are extremely close to Little’s 2011.  It might be appropriate to say that in considering Little’s future, the most likely outcome is the average of all of these players.

But that’s no fun, so let’s look at some individual names.  The list contains some extremely encouraging names for Browns fans… and some not so encouraging.  Andre Johnson is on the list… but then so is Reggie Williams.

Andre Johnson was actually in a similar situation to Little in that Johnson’s team, the Texans, were extremely thin on offense in the same way that Little’s 2011 Browns were.  Johnson had a better rookie season than Little did, but it wasn’t better by orders of magnitude.  It was just a little better.

It might seem odd to see Shannon Sharpe’s name on the list, but he isn’t separated from Little by very much size and Little’s yards per reception of just 11 yards looks more like the production that you would get out of a tight end.

Perhaps the most disappointing name to see on the list is Reggie Williams.  Somewhat like Little, Williams was selected more for being a physical specimen than an accomplished receiver.

Using these names it’s actually possible to look at what they did in the year after they were similar to Little.  They actually improved as a group.  They didn’t improve by a lot, but they improved.  Thirteen of the eighteen receivers* improved their touchdown numbers, and a little better than half of the receivers improved their yardage numbers.  The other thing that’s worth noting is that even among a group of similar players where age was one of the criteria for similarity, Little is younger than the group.  He still has three to four years before we would expect him to be playing at peak level.

Perhaps somewhat disappointingly, looking at Greg Little similar players doesn’t give us a lot more clarity on the topic of what his pro career might look like.  The issue that the Browns had when they were trying to know whether to draft him is still there.  He is a physical specimen, but unfortunately, that hasn’t translated to career success for every similar receiver.  Little has a lot of upside, but it’s too early to know whether Browns fans should get excited.

*Mike Williams hasn’t played the following year yet and Sylvester Morris was injured in the offseason following the 2000 season.

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Comments (2)

  1. [...] For Football Sickness: Did Greg Little Give Browns Fans Reason for Excitement? [...]

  2. [...] I actually already did a guest post some time ago for FootballSickness.com that looked at Greg Littl….  But since then I’ve updated the comps to work with the play-by-play database which means that we can look at them with more granular information. [...]