I should not even be able to write this article today. If the Cleveland Browns possessed any semblance of the ability to correctly identify college football players who will be able to succeed in the NFL, then the organization would never have drafted wide receiver Greg Little from the University of North Carolina in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Having never drafted Little so highly, the Browns then would have avoided putting undue pressure on themselves to play Little and put him in a position where he had little chance of succeeding. Draft picks that come so early in the NFL Draft should be reserved for players who have shown in college that they can be consistently productive at an elite level, an accomplishment of which Little cannot boast.
During his career at the University of North Carolina, which was cut short by a season-long suspension before the start of his senior season in 2010 due to receiving improper benefits from agents, Little was only a full-time receiver for one season, his junior one.
In his junior season, using play by play and pass target data provided by UNC’s football website, once Little’s receiving statistics are removed from UNC’s passing statistics, the pass throwers of UNC underwent a 5.4 percent decrease in completion percentage (from 59.8 to 56.6 percent), a 9.7 percent decrease in yards per pass attempt (from 6.2 to 5.6), 4.9 percent decrease in yards per completion (from 10.3 to 9.8), and a 2.6 percent increase in touchdown percentage (from 3.8 percent to 3.9 percent).
Although Little acquitted him reasonably well during his only collegiate season as a full-time wide receiver, nothing he did on the football field during the season was so special that it warranted spending a second-round draft pick on him. Numerous players will be able to put together one above-average season in college football, but in building a team it is best to choose only those players who sustain a level of excellence over a couple of seasons; there are players who have only one great season on their college football resume who go on to have success in the NFL, but they are the exception and not the rule.
Little was unable to demonstrate that he would have performed well in another season as a college football receiver, and therefore, should not have been viewed by the Browns as a sure-fire, can’t-miss NFL prospect. Instead, the better course of action, if they did value his receiving skills highly, would have been to use a latter-round draft selection on him and allow him to develop more slowly.
What the Browns did, however, was to do what most NFL teams do with their early-round draft selections; the team played Little right away, whether or not he was actually ready to contribute on the NFL stage or not. As of yet, the Browns have yet to receive any meaningful value from their questionable decision to use a second-round draft pick on Little.
During his rookie season, using pass target data provided by NFL.com, when Little’s receiving statistics were removed from his quarterbacks’ passing statistics, the quarterbacks underwent a 1.4 percent increase in completion percentage (from 56.1 percent to 56.9 percent), a 3.4 percent decrease in yards per pass attempt (from 5.8 to 5.6), a 1.9 percent decrease in adjusted yards per pass attempt (from 5.3 to 5.2), a 4.9 percent decrease in yards per completion (from 10.3 to 9.8), a 3.6 percent increase in touchdown percentage (from 2.8 percent to 2.9 percent), and a 4.3 decrease in interception percentage (from 2.3 percent to 2.2 percent).
Little’s presence provided only the barest of impact on the Cleveland Browns’ passing attack in 2011, and even the tiny amount of value he provided last season has completely disappeared through the eleven games in which he has appeared this season.
So far this year, once Little’s receiving statistics are removed from his quarterbacks’ passing statistics, the quarterbacks have become 1.0 percent better in completion percentage (from 55.9 percent to 56.5 percent), 1.6 percent better in yards per pass attempt (from 6.1 to 6.2), no better or worse in adjusted yards per pass attempt (5.3), .9 percent worse in yards per completion (from 11.1 to 11.0), no better or worse in touchdown percentage (3.0 percent), and no better or worse in interception percentage (3.3 percent).
The Cleveland Browns could almost have plucked any wide receiver off the street, put that person out on the field in a Browns uniform, and been able to get the same amount of value, which is to say pretty much no value at all, that Little has provided them with this season.
Given his lackluster production over the past two seasons, it is extremely unlikely that Little will ever be an above-average wide receiver in the NFL, and the Browns have only themselves to blame for having put Little in a position where he would be relied upon as a starting wide receiver. The truth is that the Cleveland Browns should never have drafted Little so highly due to the way in which he was unable to put together enough of a college football wide receiving career to provide any hint of what his true ability was.
However, since they did, they should no longer remain committed to letting him start every game and try to establish himself as a wide receiver. The wise move would be to reduce the level of dependence upon Little and correctly identify a wide receiver replacement who will be able to help the Browns’ passing attack in ways Little is simply incapable of doing.