2023 NFL Draft Rookie Profile: Zay Flowers (Fantasy Football)
While the strength of this draft lies at running back and tight end, we should not completely disregard the depth of this wide receiver class. Naturally, Jordan Addison, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and Quentin Johnston have garnered most of the attention as they are widely projected to be the first three receivers to come off the board this spring. However, there is a fourth receiver who has slowly seen his stock rise into the first round of mock drafts: Zay Flowers out of Boston College. Boasting impressive film and an accomplished production profile, Flowers could be an intriguing pick in this year’s dynasty drafts.
Let’s dive into his profile!
Editors Note: This article is part of our Rookie Profile series, which will continue until the 2023 NFL Draft. For more on each rookie, check out Andy, Mike, and Jason’s exclusive rookie rankings and production profiles found only in the Dynasty Pass, part of the UDK+ for 2023.
College Production Profile
Zay Flowers entered his collegiate career as a 3-star recruit, receiving offers from programs such as Purdue, Kentucky, and Kansas State. He would eventually commit to the Boston College Eagles, joining A.J. Dillon in his final collegiate season in 2019. As a true freshman, Flowers was only marginally involved as he averaged 41.2 scrimmage yards and 14.9% of the team’s receiving yards on a per-game basis. While those numbers do not necessarily jump off the page, Flowers showcased his versatility as he was also frequently used as a rusher – totaling 27 carries and 195 rushing yards in his first season.
It was not until his sophomore campaign that Flowers took over as the true WR1 for the Eagles. In his breakout season in 2020, he averaged an impressive 28.5% receiving yards market share and 2.29 receiving yards per team pass attempt, signaling a massive improvement from the year before. More impressive, he accounted for 39.1% of his team’s receiving touchdowns, leading the entire ACC in that metric. Naturally, this is exactly what we want to see from a second-year receiver. Flowers improved his production and efficiency across the board while asserting himself as the focal point for the Eagles.
Following his impressive 2020 campaign, you might notice that his receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns all declined despite playing one additional game in 2021. However, this was heavily driven by the change in offensive scheme as Boston College averaged nearly ten pass attempts less compared to their previous season. Therefore, when we translate his raw stats into market share numbers, as you can see above, Flowers actually improved in every single metric.
And in 2022, his ascent would continue as Flowers set career highs in receiving yards and touchdowns, averaging an impressive 40.5% Weighted Receiving Dominator Rating in 12 games. He would conclude his career 10th in the ACC in total receiving yards (3,056) and 4th in total receiving touchdowns (29), finishing as one of the most accomplished wide receivers in that conference.
Based on his measurables, Flowers is one of the smaller receivers in this class at only 5’9” and 182 pounds. However, what he lacks in size, he makes up for in speed and explosiveness. With a 4.42 40-yard dash, he ranks in the 88th percentile according to PlayerProfiler’s database. In addition, his burst score (which combines his vertical and broad jump into one number) comes in at 123.9, ranking in the 64th percentile.
Keep in mind, this comes after Flowers bulked up heading into the combine. For reference, at Boston College, he was listed at only 172 pounds. Generally, those numbers are slightly overstated and prospects come in a couple of pounds lighter than their “listed weight.” However, in this case, Flowers gained a total of ten pounds and still tested extremely well at the combine. Therefore, while he still remains one of the smaller receivers in this class, it is encouraging to see him gain additional weight while displaying some of the athletic ability (speed and acceleration) that stood out so prominently in his film.
What’s on Tape
As part of my prospect evaluation, I watch anywhere between four to six games of film to gain a better understanding of each player’s strengths and weaknesses. Below are my observations on Zay Flowers’ film.
Games Viewed: 2020 vs North Carolina, 2020 vs Pittsburgh, 2022 vs Syracuse, 2022 vs NC State, 2022 vs Louisville
1. Impressive Change of Direction as a Route Runner
What impressed me the most while watching Zay Flowers was his acceleration and unique change of direction speed that allowed him to consistently win in his routes. At the line of scrimmage, he showcased an explosiveness that can immediately create leverage against the defensive back. Flowers then does an outstanding job of using that leverage to stack his DB, creating additional pressure against the defense. And at the top of his routes, Flowers often maintains his speed going in and out of his breaks, making it difficult for defenders to close the gap.
In the clip below, we see a glimpse of Flowers’ impressive route running. He lines up outside with the defender giving him plenty of space at the line of scrimmage. Notice that as he executes this double move, he turns his head to sell the initial out route while maintaining his speed as he explodes upfield. Despite the defensive pass interference, Flowers creates enough separation to reel in the pass.
2. Patience and Speed Variation After the Catch
While his speed and acceleration clearly stand out, Flowers’ after-the-catch ability is equally impressive. He is extremely shifty with the ball in his hands, using a variety of jab steps and hesitation moves to force missed tackles. Instead of simply using his speed to run into a crowd of defenders, he reacts to the defense and manipulates his trajectory to create positive yardage. In addition, as also seen in his route running, his ability to plant his foot and explode in the opposite direction often led to some impressive plays in the open field. Naturally, Boston College relied heavily on this aspect of Flowers’ game as he was frequently leveraged on short and quick routes.
We see some of these traits in the clip below. On a short route, Flowers showcases his footwork and patience as he weaves his way past three defenders for a first down.
3. Off-Target Throws From his Quarterback
While Flowers does have an accomplished production profile, he was potentially held back by average quarterback play at Boston College. At least in the games that I reviewed, there were multiple throws that were severely off-target, forcing Flowers to adjust to pursue the ball. In some cases, the throws were simply uncatchable. This was clearly prevalent when Flowers was wide open downfield or in the red zone, and his quarterback was unable to get him the ball with enough velocity. Hopefully, this is an issue that Flowers will not have to deal with consistently at the next level. And considering he is currently projected to go later in the first round, he might be selected by a team with an accomplished quarterback (Chargers, Bills, or Cowboys), which should present a significant upgrade compared to his time at Boston College.
What’s Not on Tape
1. Frequent Opportunities against Press Coverage
Because of his versatile role with the Eagles, Flowers rarely faced press coverage in the five games that I reviewed. On about 46% of the routes that I charted, he was lined up in the slot and off the line of scrimmage. In addition, Boston College used him very frequently in motion and out of the backfield as the Eagles tried to get him the ball as quickly and often as possible. As a result, Flowers only received a handful of opportunities against press coverage. One of them was against Pittsburgh in 2020. In the clip below, we see the corner try to initiate contact immediately at the line of scrimmage. However, Flowers recovers quickly and still finds a way to stack the defender. He tracks the ball perfectly and accelerates for a deep touchdown.
2. Consistent Use of Physicality to Win
Because of his length and size, Flowers was not the most physically imposing player on the field. Rarely did I see him break a tackle through contact or lower his shoulder to push for additional yards. In addition, I found very few contested catches in my sample size of games. However, this is likely a product of how Flowers wins against the defense. He relies on his quickness and elusive ability to win in his route and often creates enough separation to avoid contact. While it will be more difficult to win this way at the next level, Flowers’ savvy and shifty skillset should help him succeed in the NFL. In addition, as mentioned earlier, he did gain about ten pounds since his last game in college, which should help tremendously as he transitions into a more physical and athletic league.
2023 Fantasy and Dynasty Outlook
Zay Flowers is one of the most intriguing players in this draft. He was consistently productive in his final three years at Boston College and could be selected in the first round of the NFL draft. However, one of the negatives in his profile is that he is entering the league as a four-year prospect. If you happened to read my article on Experience Adjusted Production and Fantasy Hit Rates, you likely already know that “declare status” matters significantly for the wide receiver position.
For context, among first-round wide receivers drafted from 2013 to 2020, the early-career hit rate in the NFL (WR2 season or better) is at 45.2%. If we isolate the sample size to players that declared early and were highly productive in college, the hit rate drastically improves to 76.9%. In other words, early-declare prospects are generally more successful in the NFL.
To provide further context, we can also take a look at prospects who entered the league with a profile similar to Flowers. Let’s use the following thresholds:
- 4-year Prospect
- Drafted in Rounds 1 to 3 (just in case Flowers slips to Day 2)
- +30% Career Weighted Dominator Rating
- +2.00 Career Receiving Yards Per Team Pass Attempt
- Draft Weight: 180 to 190 pounds
Four players drafted since 2010 make this list:
If we strictly use this list (yes, it’s a very small sample size), a player with Flowers’ profile has a 50% chance to hit. Interestingly, Flowers and Lockett have very similar athletic measurables, though Lockett was by far the more productive prospect at Kansas State. So while this list does provide some optimism, we simply need to temper our expectations as his dynasty outlook provides a much wider range of outcomes than someone like Jordan Addison or Josh Downs.