Finding Fantasy Value in Rookie NFL Wide Receivers
The casual fantasy fan could take a look at last season’s fantasy results and conclude that rookie wide receivers just can’t get the job done. Aside from Keenan Allen, no rookie wideout finished in the Top 20 wide receivers in standard fantasy scoring in 2013.
I decided to take a closer look at rookie receivers and their fantasy performance last season.
The Top 20 fantasy receivers averaged about 1,000 snaps each (996.7 to be exact). The only outliers were T.Y. Hilton, who played 776 snaps and finished 20th in fantasy points of the 20 wide receivers evaluated, and Anquan Boldin, who played 831 snaps and finished 15th.
The problem was that, of the top nine receivers drafted in 2013, the average snap count was about 650. Only two of them, Keenan Allen and DeAndre Hopkins, broke 950 snaps.
In an attempt to be objective, I left out kick return yards from my evaluation, as they muddied up the data.
What I found was that there is a strong correlation between snaps and fantasy performance at the wide receiver position. Of the 13 wide receivers who played 1,000 or more snaps, 11 of them finished in the Top 20.
The problem wasn’t that the rookies weren’t able to keep up. They simply weren’t getting the opportunity to. When dividing fantasy points by snaps, I was able to come up with a points-per-snap ratio.
Of the nine rookie receivers evaluated, seven would score enough points to qualify as Top 20 receivers if their performance was replicated over 1,000 snaps. Justin Hunter would push for a Top 10 spot.
|Player||Snaps||Fantasy Points||Points Per Snap|
What this means is that finding value in rookie receivers is more about looking for receivers who will get snaps than seeking out the most talented wideouts available. If players like Marqise Lee and Odell Beckham end up in a situation where they’re the second or third option (thus unlikely to break 900 snaps, let alone come close to 1,000), disregard their impressive array of talents and stay away from them in your fantasy draft.
The data is somewhat conditional, considering only two wide receivers were drafted in the first round last season and one of them, Tavon Austin, was drafted as more of an all-purpose threat than a pure wideout. This year, as many as seven wide receivers (Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Marqise Lee, Kelvin Benjamin, Odell Beckham, Allen Robinson, and possibly another player) could hear their name called in the first round.
If a team drafts a wide receiver in the first round, they’re making a significant investment in the pass catcher and are more likely to get him on the field for an extended period of time. Just like the Texans did with DeAndre Hopkins, it’s easy to see teams making a concerted effort to get 1,000 snaps out of Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans.
Look for the rookies who seem the most polished, as those players tend to accumulate a lot of snaps early on. As mentioned, Watkins and Evans are two great bets to break 1,000 snaps in their first season (depending what team they land on, of course), as their skill set is easily translatable to the NFL. Players like Lee and Beckham may need more time to adjust.
As for players already in the NFL, look for Justin Hunter’s production output to explode in 2014. As mentioned before, he averaged an obscene amount of fantasy points per snap (0.175, to be exact) and Titans coaches increased his snap count significantly as the season went on. Hunter played in 14 games, but tripled his average per-game snap count from about 12 to 36 when comparing the Titan’s first set of seven games and second set of seven games.
A player who you might be best suited to stay away from could be Buffalo’s Robert Woods. Despite playing in 924 snaps, the rookie scored less than 77 fantasy points (0.083 points per snap) and wasn’t a viable option for fantasy owners for a good portion of the season.
That said, don’t be scared of rookie wide receivers just because last year’s group didn’t do much in the way of scoring fantasy points. Instead, evaluate rookie wide receivers based on the situation they’re entering and where they were selected in the actual NFL draft.