2014 Pre-Draft Class Evaluation: Top Six Wide Receivers
April 27, 2014 | Rich Hribar
It’s no secret that I’m fond of wide receivers. For dynasty purposes, they are a crux of my approach because of their career longevity compared to running backs and tight ends. They also are important because a majority of league rules promote that you start at last three of them, if not more. That means that the position is going to occupy the bulk of your roster. They’re also exciting and fun to evaluate because you have so many data points on what composes a successful receiver since there are so many of them that come through the league.
Other Pre-Draft Evaluations at The Fake Football:
For fantasy purposes, the areas where I place the most emphasis is college production, especially at an early age, that is maintained throughout their collegiate careers. Physically, I want size, but not so much on the height end of things, but weight. I value a dozen plus pounds on a receiver more than an inch or two. Height generally goes hand in hand with weight, so height still has some importance, but check out these two trends regarding weight since 1970.
Percentage of 1,000 Yards Receiving Seasons By Weight Since 1970
|Year||215 + LBS||200-214 LBS||<200 LBS|
Percentage of 8 + TD Receiving Seasons By Weight Since 1970
|Year||215+ LB||200-214||<200 LB|
Not too shabby, and that’s what we call a trend. Players under 200 pounds make up less than a third of each category in today’s current game. Size isn’t the “be all end all” in evaluation, but in terms of neutral talent, I will side with the bigger body. Other physical attributes that are important are explosion (vertical plus broad jump) and speed in relation to the size of the receiver. Above and beyond agility scores don’t have great correlation to future fantasy success, which is probably counter intuitive to most who emphasize its importance on route running.
The last thing that is a factor for receivers is draft position. Receivers selected after the third round in drafts pretty much have a coins flip chance for future success and are actually pretty equal to the percentage of receivers that end up contributing that weren’t even selected in the draft.
Top 100 Scoring WR Seasons Since 2009
Top 60 Scoring WR in 2013
2013 Results Revisited
Before we get into the new crop of incoming rookies, it’s always fun to take a step back into the time machine and see just how much of a fool I was a year ago. This is the last chart, I promise.
2013 Pre-Draft Scores
|Rank||Player||NFL Draft||2013 FF Pts|
Tavon Austin had an exciting collegiate career, but his size (174 pounds) was and is going to always be problematic in the NFL, especially at the cost the Rams paid to acquire him. He’s probably undervalued now in your leagues, but he’s not a player I’m out targeting to add. Rogers’ off the field issues pushed him out of the draft and off of the first team he signed with. The result is that now he has one of the most unique contract situations in the NFL. The same can be said for Wilson, who barely snuck into the seventh round. He was a big talent on the field and is still a player to have on your radar going forward.
Allen was dinged for flaky performance overall, but he still produced well enough in the areas I value (producing at a young age, having better size than most of his peers in the class). He still exceeded anything expected, probably making him overvalued now. He still fits the mold of a WR2 long term, but was the best value a year ago. Bailey went to an awful landing spot, getting stuck on the Island of Misfit Toys, known as the Rams. It’s hard to really like him breaking free out of the quagmire there. Patterson is everyone’s love child this summer, but I’m still pretty hesitant to get in on him after initial excitement once the season ended. All in all, last year was a pretty down year for incoming receiving prospects (Hopkins would be around WR4-5 for me this season) but this year is a whole new ballgame.
1A/1B or Door Number Three?
Consensus pretty much is that there are two safe options at the top of this draft, Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans. In all honestly, I personally don’t see either as foolproof for NFL success. If I was holding one of the top two rookie picks this year, I would be looking to move back and accumulate more picks in this draft and for 2015. The market value should net you a healthy a return out of fear that all of the receivers following these two are essentially a minefield.
If I’m selecting a player at 1.01, I would take Evans. He’s only going to be 21 at the start of the season, has the size (231 pounds) and all of the measurables paired with that size to fit the profile of a future big time wide receiver and major fantasy asset. His production score isn’t glowing however, having only one big year of production. That output was also very staggered, stacking huge numbers in a few games that inflated his totals, while seemingly disappearing in others. The good news is that those best games came against the very best teams that Texas A&M faced. In his two games versus Alabama and Auburn, Evans totaled 18 receptions for 566 yards (not a typo) and five touchdowns. His ceiling is the beyond the highest for any player in this class, making his inevitable Top 10 selection in the draft completely warranted.
The things I really like about Watkins are that he produced a monster season at age 18, which is very rare and signals very good things for his future. Then he closed his career with another big season this past year. He’s going to be selected very highly in the NFL draft, likely to a team that intends to get him the football early. The big bugaboo from my end is perceived value, because as I mentioned, he is very likely to enjoy a successful career. But what kind of success can we expect?
His physical profile is one that screams that he’s going to be best suited to be a WR2 in the NFL and believe it nor not, he has athletic peers in this class, some even above him. He was also very dependent on splash plays in college, scoring 70 percent of his touchdowns from over 30 yards or longer. He had very little red zone production throughout, catching just five of only 19 targets in that area of the field. If those two parallels carry over into the NFL, in which trends regarding his overall size point to continuing, that’s problematic for creating consistent fantasy production. Greg Peshek of Rotoworld also did a series of pieces in which he noted that 57 percent of all of Watkins’ receptions at Clemson came from screen passes.
All of that information led me to believe that he will be a strong WR2 that will flirt with lower WR1 scoring when the right seasons align. His closest comparisons from my end are Pierre Garcon, Koren Robinson and Torrey Smith, making me feel pretty good about that assessment. I have no real issues with those who buy into him being a unicorn, but my expectations are below those.
The Next in Line
The next group of guys for me is flip-flopped with what is likely to transpire in the real draft. This class is completely different than a year ago, which had a lot of receivers with limited ceilings. There’s a litter of guys with the right blend of size, age and production here that can become big stars at the next level, but have some warts to overcome.
Allen Robinson is only three days older than Mike Evans, produced at an earlier age in college, and comes with a crazy freakish explosion score to go along with a 220 pound frame. The biggest knocks on him are that he doesn’t play up that size, which correlates to his poor red zone performance, where he converted just six of 32 targets for touchdowns. You’ve likely heard the comparisons of him to Dez Bryant, but I wouldn’t anticipate the early dividends that Bryant provided in his career. The player I see him closer to is Terrell Owens, who also struggled with drops and playing up to his size early in his career before the lights went on. If Robinson lands in a healthy situation to develop while playing to his strengths early on, his future could end up being enormous.
Jordan Matthews probably hurt his stock by not declaring for the draft a season ago, in which he would’ve had real good odds to be the number one receiver taken. Oddly, he did nothing at all to hurt his stock on the field, catching another 112 passes for 1,477 yards. He also saved his best performances for conference play in his career. Playing against SEC opponents, Matthews totaled 64 percent of his career receptions, 71 percent of his yards and 58 percent of his touchdowns. He also got his production in a very similar way to Watkins, relying on a plethora of screens and underperforming in the red zone (8 for 40). In fact, Jon Moore of RotoViz (our latest podcast guest) points out that his production and profile are much more similar to Watkins than you’d believe.
So he’s young, productive, and athletic and comes with the stigma of being one of the hardest workers in this class, yet he’s still going to go after lesser receivers. If I had one bet to place on a receiver in this class to have a ho-hum, consistent career in which he routinely goes for 80/1000/6, it would be Matthews.
Davante Adams is of similar stature to Matthews and Watkins at 6’1” and 212 pounds, but he’s very different from both. Adams had a pair of the most incredible college seasons ever for a receiver, catching 233 passes for 3,031 yards and a massive 38 touchdowns. Most ding that production, attributing it to playing in the Mountain West, but it’s more about how he was producing. For playing in an uptempo offense in a weaker conference, Adams didn’t rely on padding stats with just big plays. He was completely dominant in the red zone, catching 19 red zone touchdowns, tied for the most in this class with Austin-Seferian Jenkins and Cody Hoffman (did I mention he only played two seasons at age 19 and 20 already?). His closest comp is a more athletic Anquan Boldin, a guy that doesn’t need separation to be open.
They hype train has fully caught up to Cody Latimer and for good reason. The fact that both analytics guys and scouts like him probably bodes well for the big picture. Athletically, he’s right on par with the aforementioned names, and is just a nudge bigger than Adams and Watkins and he torched his pro day forty (4.38), vert (39”) and broad (125”). He doesn’t have the consistent resume that I generally covet, but he did improve in every area for all three seasons at Indiana. He’s very equal to Matthews overall for me, but doesn’t have quite the amount of production in a very similar situation in regards to surrounding offensive talent while playing in a much weaker conference.
Since there are so many receivers to get to, I’m going to break this off at this point and go over the remaining players in a follow up post that will list the total rankings. I know there are a few players that you may like that didn’t make the top six, so check out that post later this week.