Rookie Report Special: WR Success Rate Based on Draft Round & College Competition
If you play fantasy football, you’re probably well aware of how important the WR position is to fielding a quality team. While top running backs typically are more consistent week-to-week, the top WRs tend to be more consistent year-to-year, especially as NFL offenses have become more pass-heavy in recent years. In redraft leagues, this gives us a pretty good picture of who the top WR options are because of their track records of production. Sure, there are other factors that come into it, but we have a pretty good base to start from when projecting them. The question I looked at today: How do I evaluate & project the young wide receivers that don’t have a track record yet for dynasty leagues?
There are a lot of people more skilled than I at talent evaluation that have done exhaustive work to try to answer this question on a player-by-player basis. They watch film, study 40 times, hand size, height, SPARQ scores, etc., and try to quantify the talent level of each individual prospect. While that approach is certainly thorough, it still isn’t an exact science. There are still big misses. What I set out to do was take a step back to look at the big picture, and see if there are some bigger trends we can draw from based on draft round and the competition level of their college that can provide context to those individual player evaluations.
To do this, I researched every wide receiver drafted from 2000-2016. I categorized each by their draft round (1,2,3 or 4+), and whether or not they went to a power-5 school (or BCS at the time). I included Notre Dame as a power-5 school. To determine success rate, I classified every WR who posted an 800-yard receiving season as a ‘hit’, and any WR who failed to do so as a ‘miss’. If the player posted 3 or more 800-yard seasons, or 2 or more 1,000-yard seasons, I classified them as a ‘big hit’. I also looked into what % of each group posted a season in which they were targeted 100 or more times. I didn’t know what the results would look like going in, but here are the results I found:
1st Round Picks
Some of these numbers are pretty much what you’d expect. Not surprisingly, 1st round picks tend to be the most likely to be a ‘hit’, and are most likely to see 100 targets in a season (a whopping 75% of all 1st rounders from 2000-2014 have). The 1st round picks also have the highest ‘big hit’ rate among both, P5 and non-P5 schools. There were 10 wide receivers drafted in the 1st round in 2015 and’16, all from power conferences, and so far only one has seen 100+ targets and/or topped 800 yards (Amari Cooper). Based on the numbers, we should see another 5 of them ‘hit’ at some point, and another 3 of them be a ‘big hit’. Obviously these numbers are percentages over time, so there isn’t any guarantee of how many will step up and hit the marks, but I’m confident at least a few will. Here is the full list of WRs who are yet to hit the 800-yard mark from that group:
Nelson Agholor, Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, DeVante Parker, Phillip Dorsett, Corey Coleman, Will Fuller, Josh Doctson, and Laquon Treadwell.
Guys I’m buying:
DeVante Parker: Parker was targeted 87 times last year. His target total went up by 37 from his rookie season even as the Dolphins’ number of pass attempts went down by 111. His catch rate increased by 12.4% from year one to year two also, and Jarvis Landry is an impending free agent. I think Parker is the most likely of this group to hit the 800-yard mark this season, and has the talent to be a fantasy asset for years to come.
Breshad Perriman: Perriman is probably not a name that excites you after missing his whole rookie season with injury, and posting just a 50% catch rate and 7.56 yards per target on his way to a WR73 finish last year (standard scoring). The reason I’m excited about Perriman is that the Ravens lost a whopping 352 targets from last year’s team and have only added Jeremy Maclin in the offseason. Perriman can be had for a reasonable price, and should get plenty of opportunities. If Perriman can deliver on the promise that made him a 1st round draft pick, he should have a bright future with Maclin pushing 30 and Mike Wallace already on the wrong side of it. Wallace is a free agent after this season, and Maclin after next. Acquire Perriman where you can.
Corey Coleman: Coleman has had several soft tissue injuries that have slowed his progress, and still has an unsettled quarterback situation, but I’m a fan of what the Browns are building and Coleman has a great shot to be the lead WR there. He was targeted 73 times as a rookie, and he missed 6 games. 100 targets is likely just a matter of health at this point, but his efficiency will have to get better to be a true fantasy asset. He had a catch rate of just 45.2% and just 12.5 yards per catch. Normally a low catch rate comes because of a lot of downfield passes…but that ypc number doesn’t back that up. Hopefully the efficiency metrics will improve with improved quarterback play. If he’s healthy and doesn’t top the 800-yard mark this year, it would be a surprise.
Guys I’m interested in if the price is right:
Josh Doctson: I’m not extremely bullish on Doctson for 2017, but I still like his long-term outlook. I do believe he’s more talented than Jamison Crowder, but after taking 2016 as pretty much a redshirt year, he’ll have a bit of a learning curve to become a featured weapon in Washington. The signing of Terrelle Pryor certainly hurt Doctson’s upside for this year as well. Pryor signed just a one-year deal, and may bolt for bigger money if he has a breakout season, and Jordan Reed is always one bad concussion away from his career being in jeopardy. There is a real opportunity for Doctson to be the WR1 in DC by 2018.
Nelson Agholor: Agholor has been a big disappointment for the most part thus far. He was drafted to a team where he would have the chance to play right away, but he’s managed to put up just 648 yards total in the past 2 seasons. He has an unproven quarterback in Carson Wentz, posted just a 52% catch rate in each of his first two years, and the team just went out and signed Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith in the offseason. If early camp returns are any indication, the additional competition has lit a fire under Agholor. He’s been drawing rave reviews from anyone who has seen him practice, and former Eagles’ WR Mike Quick said Nelson is the most talented WR on the roster. Rumors have started swirling that the team is shopping slot WR Jordan Matthews. Obviously it’s tough to buy into Nelson given the track record, but if the owner isn’t factoring the camp hype into his asking price, it might be worth it to take a flier on that camp hype being real.
Will Fuller: I mention Fuller here because you may be able to get him at a discount after his broken collarbone. I’m not a huge fan of his game, but the Texans like what he can do as a field-stretcher. He was targeted 92 times as a rookie, and his efficiency will hopefully get better with Brock Osweiler gone. I don’t expect that he will be a perennial WR2 or better, but his speed will make him an asset in best-ball leagues. I don’t know that he’ll ever reach ‘big hit’ status in the chart above, but I’d be willing to bet he’s at least a ‘hit’.
Guys I’m avoiding:
Laquon Treadwell: Treadwell was active for 9 games last season, and managed just one catch on 3 targets. He battled through nagging injuries, and already has a leg injury in training camp again this year. He was criticized for his clocked speed at the combine (4.64 40-yard dash) by the draftnik crowd, and he’s failed to make much of an impact as a pro. It doesn’t bode well for Laquon that Jarius Wright is getting higher praise that he is in camp. Treadwell may eventually make good on his draft slot, but it’s not a bet I want to make at this point.
Kevin White: After missing his entire rookie season with nagging foot issues, White came back last year and turned 9 targets per game into 9.65 PPR fantasy points per game in the first 4 weeks before being lost to injury yet again. White ranked 13th in the league in targets per game, but finished outside of the top 60 WRs in terms of points per game despite that volume. He finished behind players like Brandon LaFell, Eddie Royal, Tavon Austin, and Eli Rogers. While White is listed as a starter entering this preseason, the team did bring in veterans Kendall Wright, Victor Cruz, Markus Wheaton, and Rueben Randle to challenge for playing time. Cameron Meredith is locked in at the other starting spot. Even if White manages to stay healthy, I don’t think he ever realizes the potential that got him drafted in the first round.
Phillip Dorsett: Dorsett’s career seems likely to have a similar arc to Darrius Heyward-Bey’s. He was over-drafted due to his blazing speed, but didn’t have the nuance of the position down. He may become a better route runner with years of experience, but his real chance to become a fantasy stud will have passed him by before that happens. He saw his opportunities regress as the season went on last year. He was targeted just once in 3 of the final 5 games last year after seeing at least 3 in every other game of the season, and he has no clear path to get above TY Hilton or Donte Moncrief on the depth chart. I would have a hard time holding Dorsett as anything more than an end of the roster flier at this point.
2nd Round Picks
There isn’t any noticeable trend in the second round that is easy to exploit. Second round WRs from power-5 schools have been a little worse than a 50-50 bet to find their way to 800 yards in a season. There isn’t much you can do with that to make a strong determination on Curtis Samuel or JuJu Smith-Schuster. Typically, non-power-5 WRs selected in the second round have been a bad bet, with just 3 of 12 reaching the 800-yard mark. Twelve is a pretty small sample size to work with, so that doesn’t necessarily mean Zay Jones and Tyler Boyd are doomed. The signing of Anquan Boldin won’t help Zay’s year one outlook though, just as the John Ross pick won’t help Boyd. The one recommendation I would make with a wide receiver drafted in the second round is this:
Buy Davante Adams: As I mentioned above, there are just 3 small school receivers drafted in the 2nd round since 2000 that have eclipsed 800 receiving yards in a season. The first two to do it were Greg Jennings and Vincent Jackson. Those two receivers have put together seven WR1 seasons and another three WR2 seasons between them. The third to do it was Adams. Typically, when a smaller school receiver picked in the 2nd round shows he belongs in the NFL, he goes on to do big things. Here are the players that haven’t hit 800 yards: Aaron Dobson, Brian Quick, Titus Young, Donnie Avery, Jerome Simpson, Dexter Jackson, Darius Watts, Tyrone Calico, and Todd Pinkston. Any of those jump out at you as productive fantasy assets? Davante has already shown that he belongs after posting a WR1 season last year, and he has Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball. Rodgers has been a top-2 fantasy quarterback in 7 of his 9 seasons as the Packers’ starter. If you have an Adams owner in your league that thinks his breakout 2016 was a fluke (or is just a Jeff Janis truther), you should be making him or her an offer.
3rd Round Picks
The 3rd round is definitely the one that had the most interesting trend that I found in this research. Just 16% of the power-5 conference receivers selected in the 3rd round have managed to put up 800 yards in a season. There have been fewer WRs from those power conferences to hit that mark (9) than guys from non-P5 schools to do so (10), despite having 2.3X as many WRs selected (55 to 24). The most rational reason I can come up for this trend is that NFL scouting departments do a better job of evaluating players from the power conferences. They have a clearer picture of which receivers are the best among that group, and they tend to be off the board before the 3rd round. They aren’t as successful at evaluating the non-P5 receivers. They haven’t seen them against elite competition as regularly, and have to do more projecting. As a result, those receivers from smaller conferences are more likely to fall through the cracks and slip into the 3rd round. While this doesn’t mean that a power conference WR selected in the 3rd round can’t be a fantasy asset, it’s not a bet I want to make unless I’m pretty sure on that player. Here are a few notable WRs that fall into this category from the past three years:
Braxton Miller, Leonte Carroo, Tyler Lockett, Jaelen Strong, Chris Conley, Sammie Coates, Ty Montgomery, ArDarius Stewart, Chris Godwin, and Amara Darboh
If we throw out Ty Montgomery (switched to running back and is unlikely to ever hit 800 receiving yards), that leaves 9 players in this group. None have reached 800 yards in a season yet, and based on the trends, only 1 or 2 are likely to ever get to that number. There are some names on that list that I like. I think ArDarius Stewart can have a big impact with Enunwa injured in New York. Chris Godwin has been flashing in Bucs camp. Tyler Lockett has been incredibly efficient in his first 2 seasons, and Chris Conley is part of a pretty wide open depth chart behind Tyreek Hill. If you’re going to take a shot on any of this list, I would go with one of those 4, but it hasn’t been a high percentage bet since 2000. It might be worth dealing them if any of your league mates are high on one of these guys.
The small school players have been much more successful when picked in the 3rd. 41.7% of them have put up 800 yards in a season, and over 45% have been targeted 100+ times in a season. Those are pretty high odds of success when you’re likely talking about a late 2nd round rookie pick or later. There haven’t been many of these guys picked in the 3rd round in the past few years (just TY Hilton, John Brown and Dri Archer from 2012-2016), but there are 5 of them that were drafted in 2017. Here are the non-P5 receivers drafted in the 3rd round this year:
Cooper Kupp, Taywan Taylor, Carlos Henderson, Kenny Golladay, and Chad Williams
With this group, it’s basically a choose-your-flavor kind of situation…
Kupp is a possession receiver who is slotted to start in LA as of now. His QB is a concern, but they brought in an offensive-minded head coach who will hopefully bring out the best of Jared Goff.
Taylor has flashed in training camp, but he’s going to be about 5th in the pecking order for targets at best this year, and will likely never pass Corey Davis to become the team’s WR1. He’s a guy you would have to stash with hopes that his role increases as veterans like Delanie Walker, Eric Decker and Rishard Matthews move on.
Carlos Henderson is set to be the slot receiver in Denver this year, but Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders have been consistent target hogs. Since Sanders joined the team in 2014, he and Thomas have combined for 325, 313, and 281 targets in each season. Meanwhile, only one other teammate in that span has seen more than 65 targets in a season (Owen Daniels with 77 in 2015). With Sanders already at 30 years old, and Demaryius turning 30 in December, Henderson likely won’t have as long of a wait for relevance as Taywan Taylor, but he’ll still have to wait his turn.
Kenny Golladay probably has the best chance to contribute right away among the group. Kupp may be slated to start, but he’s unlikely to be used a ton in the red zone. The Rams are also going to lean on Todd Gurley quite a bit and will have less passing volume overall than Detroit. Anquan Boldin and his 95 targets & 8 TDs from a year ago have moved on to Buffalo, so Golladay should step in to that spot in the lineup right away. Eric Ebron may absorb some of those targets, but 75-80 is very possible for Golladay, and he has been a red zone weapon so far in camp. Golladay appears to have a bright future, and he has a chance to make a splash as a rookie.
Chad Williams may have the best long-term upside among this group of WRs. He’s certainly going to start off behind Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown on the depth chart this year, and possibly behind JJ Nelson and Jaron Brown as well. The 33-year old Fitzgerald has said that he would like to retire while still playing at a high level. That could be as soon as the end of this season. None of the other receivers on this team profile as a #1 wide receiver, so there will be a void if Fitz retires. Williams has the size and athleticism to develop into that role, and will have the opportunity to be mentored by one of the bests to ever do it in Fitzgerald. If Fitz hangs it up after this year, Williams could have big upside as early as year 2.
4th round – 7th round picks
There isn’t much to say about the late round picks. Fewer than 10% of WRs selected after the 3rd round have managed to record an 800-yard season, regardless of college conference. Luckily, these guys won’t cost you much in a rookie draft, so there isn’t much risk, but the rewards are also limited. Here are some of the more productive guys to come from those rounds in the last several years: Stefon Diggs, Marvin Jones, Rishard Matthews, Martavis Bryant, Cecil Shorts, Mike Williams (Syracuse), Brian Hartline, and Jeremy Kerley. The best advice I can give on these guys is to take your shots on the guys that seem to have the easiest path to early opportunity, and to be vigilant on the waiver wire if a player in this range puts a couple of nice games together. Diggs and Jones could have easily been had for free in most leagues.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Hopefully this information will help you as you try to determine which young wide receivers you should be targeting in dynasty leagues and which are better left alone. Obviously every player is different, and these trends aren’t black-and-white, but they should at least give you another piece of information to consider as you evaluate the young wide receivers. Be sure to check back all season to read the Rookie Report each week for recommendations of what to do with the rookies on your fantasy squad. I’ll sign off the way I do every article: Good luck, trust your gut, and have fun. It’s just a game.