The Bills WRs Aren’t as Leptokurtic as You Think

Original Cam Phillips Photo The Buffalo News
Original Cam Phillips Photo The Buffalo News

My nerd math teacher would call the Bills’ WR Room a negatively-skewed leptokurtic distribution. Then he would try to explain it: “Leptokurtic distributions are statistical distributions where there are extreme points along the X axis, more concentrated about the mean”.

BTW, Google auto-correct will want to change “leptokurtic” to “narcoleptic”; don’t let that happen. That will just make the Bills’ 31st-ranked passing game worse.

A negatively-skewed leptokurtic distribution of, say, thirteen Bills WRs would have one Pro Bowl-level WR on the far right of that X-axis, and a big logjam of average receivers to the left. That’s what we have right now: Benjamin is far and away the go-to receiver in Daboll’s offense, and, for the time being, everyone else is a guy named Fred.

Or are they?

Photo of WR Corey Coleman from

By adding Corey Coleman and maintaining their trust in Zay Jones, the Bills have 2016 and 2017’s leaders in receptions in college football in that WR room. In fact, Coleman also led the 2015 college crowd in touchdowns.

Can this translate to the NFL level? PFF did a study. They found that catch rate (0.50 correlation), yards per reception (0.43), and yards after the catch per reception (0.49) do translate quite well, but there is a steeper learning curve (yes, a positively-skewed leptokurtic distribution) for wide receivers that needs more than a year’s time to un-cloud the skies for future stars.

The predictive correlation becomes higher over time, and that’s promising. Coleman’s in his 3rd year; Zay’s just a sophomore. If wide receivers are asked to play the same role with their NFL team that they practiced and performed in college, the correlation with NFL success becomes even higher. That’s promising, too, because Brian Daboll is a wizard at determining what players do well and having them do just that, unlike certain recent coordinators.

Could there be other wideouts on the Bills that would more positively skew the leptokurtic distribution? I submit that there are several.

I’ve been to five practices, and one newbie has caught almost everything thrown his way, scored two touchdowns, nearly caught a third, and is not named Brandon Reilly.

Photo of WR Cam Phillips from

With an impressive 2.89 yards per route run, Cam Phillips was the 2nd-most-productive route runner in the ACC. Cam dropped only 2 of his 73 catchable passes in 2017, and forced 40 missed tackles on 235 career catches. In 2016, Phillips’s best year, Phillips’s catch rate was 80%. Add Cam Phillips to the plus end of the graph.

Missing from the Bills’ media reports until perhaps yesterday’s practice, Malachi Dupre has a shot at skewing up. While you hope Corey Coleman can vie for the WR2 receiver in Daboll’s offense and stretch the field, Malachi Dupre could be that big-play guy.

In his last two years at LSU, 43% of Dupre’s yards and 5 of his 9 TDs came on passes of more than 20 yards. Still only age 22, Dupre was the Packers’ RD7 draft pick in 2017. He was going to make the Packers, but suffered a big blow to the head in preseason and was waived in the final cut.

The Packers’ loss is the Bills’ gain. Dupre’s ‘my-ball’ mentality can help. In yesterday’s practice, Allen went 2 for 2 to Dupre, with a DPI on Breon Borders ruining Dupre’s 3-for-3 morning.  Peterman had the longest throw to the LSU wideout, so we’ll likely see Dupre assert himself against the Panthers Thursday night.

There’s always going to be a dark-horse wide receiver who flourishes in preseason, like last year, when Brandon Reilly led the Bills with 11 preseason catches. That could be Robert Foster or RayRay McCloud this year. There’s always a 30-plus-year-old who exceeds his past performance (Rod Streater, Andre Holmes, Jeremy Kerley).

There’s also Beane’s assertion that he might scoop up a talented veteran that gets cut from a team who loaded up on Day1-Day2 WRs over the last 2 years (especially PanthersBroncos, Steelers, and Titans, who all drafted two). That’s why I’m quite optimistic that the negatively-skewed leptokurtic distribution that NFL analysts are predicting for the Bills will look better on the field than it does on a graph.

Editor’s babble: Music to the ears of any fan of statistical analysis (raises nerd-like hand). Love Dean’s contributions to our blog! You can follow Dean on Twitter @TCBILLS_Astro. If you’re not, you’re missing a real treat.

11 Replies to “The Bills WRs Aren’t as Leptokurtic as You Think”

  1. Thanks for the article Dean, lots of work went into this and it is a very interesting read.
    Unfortunately when you look at the current depth chart for Bills receivers you see Kelvin Benjamin and Corey Coleman or Zay Jones at the top .
    Aside from Benjamin, not a single receiver on the Bills roster has accomplished anything to allow us to say that they are average receivers in the NFL. Much less in the top 64 of the league that would position one of them as a certified starter.
    The signing of Coleman kind of sparked this thinking because it really comes off as a move of desperation- flagging that even our GM believes our receiving squad needs help- even if it turns out to be another Deonte Thompson / Jordan Matthews type of move. After Benjamin and the unproven in Zay Jones / Corey Coleman the list looks like this-
    Jeremy Kerley
    Andre Holmes
    Rod Streater
    Ray-Ray McCloud
    Austin Proehl
    Brandon Reilly
    Kaelin Clay
    Malachi Dupre
    Quan Bray
    Robert Foster
    Cam Phillips
    Again, a list of unproven players that are a far cry from NFL starting level talent at this point. And while good practices, training camp performances and preseason game contributions are promising, we have seen all to many times that it doesn’t mean much until the bullets start flying in regular season competition.
    I agree that receivers take time to develop and that Brian Daboll is in a good position to do just that. But relying on development, translation and scooping up released veterans trying to find a top 64 receiver or two is nothing but optimism and a guess at this point.
    The Bills enter 2018 with one starting receiver and a lot of maybes.
    The good news is that last year wasn’t much different- Charles Clay and LeSean McCoy were the Bills leading “receivers”. Thankfully they are still on the roster.

    • Your list has me baffled. Cam Phillips on the bottom? Holmes above Dupre? Quan Bray (who was cut) in the middle?

      I guess we’ll have to disagree, wait until game time, and pick this up afterward.

      • The rest of the list is in no particular order.
        Didn’t see that Bray was put on waivers Sunday.

  2. Add to that, Kelvin Benjamin isn’t really a legit #1. He has a nice skill set and one you’d like to have on your team…but I dont think many teams, if any, would want him to be their top threat and option.

    • Well, we know the Panthers didn’t…
      I wonder if they had Brian Daboll (5 rings, 2 CFB championship games) as their OC.
      I personally think that the Bills will grab one by Sept. 1, get a FA receiver, and draft one relatively early in 2019.

  3. Thanks for the interesting take on metrics. Maybe we can accomplish more than many are giving us credit for. Go Bills and stay healthy tonight,

  4. “I wonder if they had Brian Daboll (5 rings, 2 CFB championship games) as their OC.”

    Daboll’s resume as an OC isn’t exactly glowing. Here are his rankings as an OC in the NFL, both points for and yards:
    2009 – PF: 29 Yds: 32
    2010 – PF: 31 Yds: 29
    2011 – PF: 20 Yds: 22
    2012 – PF: 32 Yds: 24

    That’s not to say he’s going to be bad for the Bills, but it doesn’t quite suggest he’s a stud OC waiting to happen either. He has one solid year as an OC in college under his belt (and for a team more known for its defense.) He’s an unknown product at best…

    Hey, why do comments not post right away for known posters anymore? The site also used to save the name & email fields, too… It’s no longer doing that.

    • I would guess that approval of posts has to go through our editor, and she was at the game last night. Either that or your comments about my article aren’t about the article, and you should use Twitter (@TCBills_Astro) or Original Buffalo Bills Fan Page for general discussion so it reaches a larger audience than just you personally.

      Daboll has had poor QBs everywhere he’s gone in the NFL.

      • This is new behavior for the site. Previously your first time posting, there was a delay to verify you’re not a spam bot or troublemaker, but from there your comments would post immediately. Apologies if you’re put off by the comments being more of a discussion than notes on the piece. If we’re looking to discourage a more free form, Bills orientated discussion here, please let us know and we can act accordingly.

        And regarding Daboll…he may still be stuck with poor QBs everywhere he’s OC’ed in the NFL. We’ll see how it unfolds…

  5. The game is taping at home while I’m at work and I’m looking forward to watching it sometime over the weekend…

    Curious how both lines played and LB unit.

    I believe the WR play will be much better this year with better QB play. Daboll likes to use the TE so Clay could have a big year and Thomas has great hands.

    To me KB is definitely a #1, big body with excellent hands will be hard to cover if healthy. Being in Tampa I watch Mike Evans and he is the same type of player big, excellent hands with deceptive speed. The Bills have Coleman and Foster 2 speedsters that can keep the defense honest . Zay is over the rookie jitters and will rebound this year — next year he will replace KB as the #1.

    I’m also having the same problems as Joma with signing in and post taking a while to show.

  6. I will alert my editor about the sign-in and posts taking time to show up. I know someone has to approve of posts, and I know she went to Buffalo to watch practices and Game 1. I get email alerts when a reader posts a reply, and I get to them as soon as I can.

    I think with the Bills’ coffers next year being so large that Benjamin is re-upped if he has a big year. Your Evans comp is a good one.