Placing a Value on Rookie Wide Receivers in Fantasy Football
Whether in redraft or dyno, we love the sexy rookies. They come to us via college football and the all-important NFL entry draft that takes place in May. We project what rookies will do based on scouting reports, roles with their new teams and talent that seems to be spewing from all angles, including on stage during a Miley Cyrus twerking performance.
Inevitably, we are let down, as these rookies fail to put up the numbers that we expected in the slots we drafted them. Whereas running backs tend to perform at a high level as rookies, players at other skill positions struggle … none more magnified than at wide receiver.
Let’s just look at the 2012 NFL rookie class for a second.
The likes of Justin Blackmon, Kendall Wright, Michael Floyd and Alshon Jeffery were expected to contribute in a big way. Each had an ADP in the top 150, with Blackmon topping out the class at 95.
They didn’t put up horrible numbers by any stretch of the imagination.
|95.5||1st Round||Justin Blackmon||Jaguars||64||865||5|
|138.98||1st Round||Kendall Wright||Titans||64||626||4|
|152.03||1st Round||Michael Floyd||Cardinals||45||562||2|
|158.76||2nd Round||Alshon Jeffery||Bears||24||367||3|
The issue here, however, was targets. If you are not seeing the necessary amount of balls thrown your way, you simply aren’t going to make much of an impact in fantasy football.
We can go ahead and take Blackmon out of the equation here for a second. His target rate was dramatically more than any other receiver in 2012 simply because the Jacksonville Jaguars didn’t have a whole lot of weapons on the offensive side of the ball. Overall, these four receivers struggled both accumulating the necessary targets to make the impact they needed to and catching the ball when they were actually targeted. This is par for the course when it comes to rookie performers.
Now let’s take a look at how these receivers from the 2012 draft class performed in their sophomore campaigns.
It’s natural for receivers to see an increase in targets from their first season to their second season. They become more comfortable with a pro-style route tree, have an extra year of experience and are tasked with taking on a larger role in the offense.
Even an increase of 11 percent in targets can make a world of difference as it relates to fantasy production. For even Michael Floyd, that’s about an average of one more reception per game. For others who saw a much more dramatic increase in targets, it’s a whole lot more important.
For comparison’s sake, let’s check in on rookie receivers from the 2013 season and how they fared. Warning here, if you selected any of these youngsters with hopes that they would make a strong fantasy impact, you probably should take this article to heart.
|81.15||1st Round||Tavon Austin||Rams||40||418||7*|
|115.24||1st Round||DeAndre Hopkins||Texans||52||802||2|
|136.17||1st Round||Cordarrelle Patterson||Vikings||45||469||7*|
|154.79||2nd Round||Aaron Dobson||Patriots||37||519||4|
|175.03||2nd Round||Robert Woods||Bills||40||587||3|
|175.31||3rd Round||Keenan Allen||Chargers||71||1046||8|
Keenan Allen joined only A.J. Green as the second rookie receiver since 2005 to accumulate over 1,000 yards. As a third-round pick, his performance was an exception to the rule. In fact, over half of the first-round picks from the receiver position who have been selected over the past 15 years have put up less than 700 receiving yards in their first season. Interestingly enough, Allen’s ADP was lower than any rookie receiver who saw the field on a consistent basis.
For his part, Austin’s ADP was higher than Anquan Boldin, Josh Gordon and Michael Floyd. Based solely on ADP, Austin was expected to be a decent WR3 option in leagues that start three receivers — top-tier FLEX in other leagues. Obviously, that did not happen.
Targets were somewhat of an issue for rookies this past season as well
Let’s now take a look at some veteran receivers who weren’t valued anywhere near where they finished the season.
Josh Gordon needs to be eliminated from the conversation for a second here. His ADP was much lower due to a two-game suspension to start the season. While he fell a lot more than I anticipated in the leagues I was involved in, when a player is already preset to miss 11 percent of the games for the upcoming year, he can’t be expected to be one of the top players off the board at that position.
DeSean Jackson was nowhere near a sexy pick in preseason drafts. Uncertainty over the quarterback position and Chip Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia as well as Jackson’s recent inconsistent performances led many to believe he wouldn’t make a strong fantasy impact. Jackson finished as the No. 10 fantasy receiver after being the 26th-ranked player at that position off the board in the preseason.
Even a marginal fantasy option like Brian Hartline performed much better than anyone anticipated. After being the 56th receiver off the board in preseason ADP rankings, Hartline finished as the No. 26 fantasy receiver. The only rookie receiver who finished ahead of Hartline was Allen, who we indicated before was nothing more than an exception to the rule in 2013.
Of the nine veterans that I charted above who went lower than Austin (the No. 1 rookie receiver in ADP), five of them went for over 1,000 yards, with four of them finishing the year as reliable starters in standard fantasy leagues.
What’s the moral of this story? While it makes sense to plan for the future in dyno leagues, expecting immediate production is foolhardy. If you are planning on getting the biggest bang for your buck in standard redraft leagues, go with the veteran. It really is that plain and simple.
There are a few different things I have learned to take into account since I started playing and writing about fantasy football. The obvious focus here is going to be fantasy receivers.
* Set Your Roster Beforehand: Don’t rely on a rookie to come in and be an immediate contributor. Those types of receivers are few and far between. It’s okay to fill out your depth chart and use a pick or two as bye-week replacements … that’s about it.
* Find the Happy Medium: This is really important: Most owners are going to draft rookies with an eye on the future. You simply cannot look at someone, say Robert Woods, and view him as a plug-and-play receiver simply because he’s considered pro ready. Unless you are in extremely deep leagues or utilize a taxi squad, there also has to be some hope that said rookie will make a minimal contribution in his first season.
* Quarterback: It’s absolutely amazing what Josh Gordon has been able to do with lackluster signal callers under center. That’s another exception to the rule. Just look at Justin Blackmon’s production as a rookie with Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne throwing him balls. He caught less than 50 percent of the passes thrown in his direction. That’s not sustainable for a veteran, let alone a rookie.
* Offense: Quinton Patton may end up being a fantasy stud in a couple years. The Louisiana Tech product was more than impressive when he saw the field for the 49ers this year, preseason included. With that said, he was going to be, at best, the fourth option in a run-heavy offense. Even when Patton was healthy, there just wasn’t enough balls to go around. He’s the perfect example of a projection pick that you make with eyes on three years down the road.
* Role: Keenan Allen was thrust into the No. 1 receiver role for the San Diego Chargers this season when Danario Alexander and Malcolm Floyd went down with season-ending injuries. Prior to Floyd’s injury, Allen had put up two catches for 34 yards in two games. He tallied 69 receptions for over 1,000 yards in his final 14 outings. Again, looking at the 49ers for a second. They may go wide receiver in the first round of the draft in May, but whoever Trent Baalke and Co. target won’t be much of a fantasy performer, especially if San Francisco retains Anquan Boldin. As much as you might want to look at the player who is being drafted, it’s equally as important to look at the situation he is going into.
A lot of fantasy owners will be drooling over the immense amount of talent that will be selected in the 2014 NFL draft. Based solely on what it means for receiver-needy teams, this is absolutely huge. With that said, bookmark this article and look at recent history. It doesn’t tell you a friendly story of rookie wide receivers making much of a fantasy impact.