TFF Writing Contest Round 1, 2nd Place Finish: Ryan Humphrey
June 21, 2015 | Chet
Editor’s Note: Congratulations to Ryan Humphrey who finished in second place for Round 1 of The Fake Football Writing Contest Sponsored by Victiv with the following piece. Give Ryan a follow on Twitter at @whiskeyandry
Overpaying for the Unproven
Winning fantasy football leagues is predicated upon finding value. To win we need to walk into the thrift store and walk out in couture, even if it’s blemished and is destined to still smell after a couple of washes. Rookie wide receivers are often hyped to the point that their acquisition price is inflated by the outlandish expectations premature praise breeds. The historic production from the 2014 class only increases the likelihood that the most heralded receivers entering the league this year will be too costly to return a profit.
Odell Beckham Jr. did not win leagues because he averaged over one hundred yards and a touchdown a game. He won leagues because he offered that production at the cost of a late round flyer or a waiver wire claim. This year it is understandable to desire Amari Cooper and Kevin White. They’re the sexy name-brand assets with the glossy college tape that makes them hard to resist. Unfortunately they are both being drafted as a top thirty receiver in most drafts and trending even higher. Give the hype the entire summer to percolate, sprinkle in a few promising preseason plays, and it is likely that Nelson Agholor, DaVante Parker, Breshad Perriman, and Dorial Green-Beckham all join them comfortably within the first forty receivers drafted.
The limitless potential that a rookie receiver brings to the field is starkly contrasted by the fact that over the past four seasons only twelve rookie wide receivers have cracked the positional top thirty-six. Half of those twelve were from last year’s all-time great class, with Beckham and Mike Evans being the only two over this period to finish in the top 12. It’s no fun to temper expectations, but history has shown that very few rookie receivers end up providing dependable weekly production and only a handful have ever provided elite fantasy numbers. This creates a situation, amplified by last years record breaking results, where several rookies will be drafted so high that even the best case scenario is barely profitable. You will be using an early to mid round pick on a player whose ceiling is your second wide receiver and whose most likely outcome is being relegated to the bench mid-season.
Sammy Watkins had a successful season by most measures, yet in many leagues his finish among the top thirty receivers was essentially break-even for the owner who drafted him. The same situation appears to be materializing with the receivers drafted early in the 2015 NFL Draft. It’s enticing to imagine the otherworldly production Amari Cooper, Kevin White, and DaVante Parker are capable of this year and these Disney pipe-dream projections have heavily inflated their early draft positions. Take a deep breath and consider that Derek Carr did not have a single receiver go for over 700 yards last year. Chicago is overloaded with pass-catching weapons and shit broke at quarterback. Miami appears set on spreading the ball around and has enough options to make it doubtful that even a healthy Parker will be a target hog. Is it possible that one of these players is a top receiver this year? Sure, but when the cost is an early round pick there’s simply too much risk for the limited upside. The damage of reaching to secure one of the top rookies is compounded because their over-drafting is depressing the cost of proven veterans. Given how rare it is for a rookie receiver to be fantasy relevant, it seems foolish to risk a valuable draft pick when established players will be available at a discount as a half dozen rookies creep into the first thirty-six off the board.
If I am drafting a rookie I want him to come cheap and with upside to make up for the likelihood that he is going to become waiver wire fodder. Carolina’s second round pick Devin Funchess fits that mold. Last year Kelvin Benjamin was a rookie success story because Carolina did not have any other choice but to repeatedly throw the ball his way. With a porous defense and Greg Olsen as the only other legitimate receiving threat, it did not matter that Benjamin was not particularly good at actually catching the ball. He finished with the 6th most targets and only the 29th most receptions, but fantasy football is not concerned with drops if the looks keep coming. However, if the poor catch rate continues Funchess may be looking at a dependable workload early on.
Devin Funchess is essentially a Kelvin Benjamin injury away from being this year’s Kelvin Benjamin, with better measurables to boot. Even without an injury, it’s not hard to envision a scenario where Funchess steals enough targets from Benjamin and the lesser receivers on the team to become a valuable asset. Of course there is also the scenario where Benjamin improves and Stephen Hill and Ted Ginn transform into productive NFL players, leaving Funchess with a few pity targets a game. But that risk is palatable when he can be secured with a late round pick. All of the other rookie receivers come with risk, so it’s sensible to target a player whose risk is more honestly factored into his draft position. The goal of fantasy football is to build the most valuable roster, not the flashiest. Let the suckers in your league overpay for Amari Cooper and the headaches he is likely to cause tied down in Oakland. Grab Funchess late knowing that his upside exceeds his modest sticker price. If you’re going to take a chance on a rookie make sure it is at a realistic price so you don’t get burned too badly. For every rookie receiver that catches fire and becomes a star there is going to be dozens of dumpster fires.
All stats from pro-football-reference.com and espn.com