Research by BYU graduate Lyndon Plothow shows that at the wide receiver position, non-BCS players are actually more productive in the NFL than their BCS counterparts. Below are four receivers from non-BCS schools who have exceeded expectations, based on where they were selected in the NFL Draft.
PROVO — The inexact science that is the NFL draft regularly yields first-round busts. It also produces mid- to late-round picks that far exceed expectations.
For example, former BYU wide receiver Austin Collie was drafted in the fourth round in 2009 by the Indianapolis Colts — the 19th wide receiver taken. Last season, Collie caught 60 passes, tying the mark for most receptions among all rookies. Minnesota's Percy Harvin, a Florida product selected in the first round in 2009, also hauled in 60 passes.
Turns out Collie's success, and that of other players from non-BCS schools like BYU, is not uncommon.
Research done by recently graduated BYU student Lyndon Plothow reveals that while NFL executives prefer to draft athletes from BCS conferences over players from non-BCS conferences, they do so at their own peril.
That's because many non-BCS players — particularly wide receivers — outperform their BCS counterparts in the NFL.
According to Plothow's analysis, receivers from non-BCS leagues are better in the NFL than BCS receivers with similar college statistics and similar performances at the annual NFL Combine.
Plothow admits that he was surprised by his findings, but he was also thrilled because, as a BYU fan, he is "anti-BCS." What compounded Plothow's pleasure was that a former Cougar wideout, Collie, became a poster boy for his research.
Plothow, who majored in economics and linguistics at BYU, spent more than a year researching nine years of drafts and on-field production for his honor's thesis.
"The receivers look the same on paper, but the non-BCS receiver actually performs better (than the BCS receiver) in the end," Plothow said. "They stay longer in the NFL, and each season, they're producing more."
The research shows that receivers from non-BCS teams are 15 percent more likely to play in the NFL more than three years than their BCS counterparts. What's more, non-BCS receivers average 200 more yards per season in the NFL.
While Collie's production outweighed his position in the draft, he isn't the only one to do so in recent years.
Miami Dolphins wideout Brandon Marshall, a fourth-round pick from Central Florida in 2006, posted three straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons for the Denver Broncos. Hofstra product Marques Colston, who was a seventh-round pick in 2006, led the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints in receiving in 2009. Miles Austin, who was undrafted out of Monmouth in 2006, caught 11 touchdown passes last season for the Dallas Cowboys.
Non-BCS running backs have also proven to be diamonds in the rough. Plothow's research shows that non-BCS running backs are as productive in the NFL as BCS running backs of similar strength, speed and college statistics. Difference is, non-BCS running backs are selected on average 34 spots later.
The Atlanta Falcons' Michael Turner was a fifth-round pick in 2004 out of Northern Illinois. In 2008, he rushed for 1,699 yards and 17 touchdowns. Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans, who played at East Carolina University, fell all the way to No. 24 in the first round of the 2008 draft despite a 40-yard dash time of 4.24 seconds at the combine. Johnson was the NFL's leading rusher last year, accumulating more than 2,000 yards on the ground.
"Two players coming out of BCS and non-BCS schools may look equal," Plothow said, "but the BCS player is consistently selected much higher in the NFL draft."
Plothow added that his research suggests that "NFL executives look almost exclusively at BCS players."
He hopes his analysis will change the way league personnel look at non-BCS players, especially the wide receivers and running backs.
Plothow's extensive draft study has made him quite accurate in predicting how the draft will play out. For instance, Plothow projected that BYU tight end Dennis Pitta would be drafted No. 113 overall in the recently concluded 2010 draft. Pitta was picked No. 114 by the Baltimore Ravens.
"All I did was look at the past drafts and figure out where a player like Pitta would end up," Plothow explained.
NFL front offices might want to consider enlisting Plothow's services, but they will have to wait. Having recently graduated, Plothow is set to enroll at Cambridge in the fall to pursue a master's degree in Old English. After that, he plans to attend law school.
Plothow's research, which he is currently working on getting published in a prestigious academic journal, has been featured in various news outlets, including espn.com.
"It's been great," he said of the attention his research has attracted. "I didn't expect anything to come of it. It's good to see people care about this."